A test version of NASA’s Orion space capsule made a parachute drop near Yuma, Arizona on Tuesday with only two of its three parachutes working. Dropped from a Hercules transport aircraft from an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 m), it wasn't an accident, but a deliberate nobbling of one of the chutes by NASA engineers to prove the capsule could safely return to Earth in the event of such a failure.

According to NASA, this seventh parachute test is important because Orion is intended for deep space missions to the Moon and beyond. This means that when the 21,000-pound (9,525-kg) capsule returns to Earth, it will be traveling at over 20,000 mph (32,000 km/h) – a speed not seen by a manned spacecraft since the Apollo program.

Another link to Apollo is that such a parachute failure did occur on August 7, 1971 when Apollo 15 splashed down, so such a scenario is more than hypothetical. An eighth drop test is scheduled for May, and Orion’s first unmanned test flight will take place in 2014, when it will travel 3,600 miles (5,800 km) away from Earth for a high-velocity reentry.

The video below shows the Orion spacecraft being dropped at the start of the test.

Source: NASA

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