On December 5, 2014, at 7:05 a.m. EST, an enormous Delta IV Heavy roared into the sky from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sending a test version of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on a “flawless” four-and-a-half hour, two-orbit voyage which took it 3,604 miles away from Earth – farther than any spacecraft designed for human occupants has ventured since Apollo 17. (Read my personal account of that historic event here.) Later that same day Orion returned to Earth, reentering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific off the southern tip of Baja California where U.S. Navy ships and recovery divers were waiting. The event was broadcast live as seen by surveillance aircraft, but today NASA has shared HD video captured from the spacecraft itself: a hauntingly beautiful rear-view mirror look at Orion’s “trial by fire” reentry, parachute descent, and splashdown.
It’s ten minutes and fifteen seconds that you will certainly not want to miss. Check it out above.
“The video begins 10 minutes before Orion’s 11:29 a.m. EST splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, just as the spacecraft was beginning to experience Earth’s atmosphere. Peak heating from the friction caused by the atmosphere rubbing against Orion’s heat shield comes less than two minutes later, and the footage shows the plasma created by the interaction change from white to yellow to lavender to magenta as the temperature increases. The video goes on to show the deployment of Orion’s parachutes and the final splash as it touches down.”
Video credit: NASA