It was a successful test launch this morning for Boeing’s new space pod.
The so-called “pad abort test” simulates a catastrophic failure of its “Starliner” capsule, and checks the craft’s ability to safely extricate astronauts if something happened to endanger the launch.
Today’s test triggered the capsule’s abort engines and parachute, showing it can safely land during a low-altitude emergency. The three astronauts — who Boeing hopes to send into space next year — were all present at the test at Launch Complex 32 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
“We hope we never need to use this system,” NASA astronaut Mike Fincke told Space.com. “We know after today’s test we’ll be able to get off safely and come back and try another day.”
In their place was a test dummy with sensors around it to measure the effects. In the test the capsule reached a speed of 650 mph in five seconds, carrying the capsule away from the potentially unstable rocket.
After the capsule properly reoriented in the air, several parachutes shot out, the heat shield was jettisoned, and airbags were deplored, all as a means of ensuring a safe landing for the crew.
The Starliner is part of NASA’s effort to send more American astronauts into space using private companies.