News of two spectacular failures involving NASA hardware have giving the space agency a bad publicity week. First, the agency quietly released photos of a crash during a test of the parachute landing system for the Orion crew capsule, the next-generation craft that will replace the Space Shuttle. Then, this morning, NASA announced that a suborbital rocket built by the private contractor Alliant Techsystems (ATK) had to be destroyed during a failed launch. The rocket was carrying two NASA hypersonic experiments.
In the first fiasco, the mock-up of the Orion capsule crashed into the Arizona desert because of one faulty parachute. The good news: All but one of 18 parachutes inflated. The bad news: That 18th one was responsible for orienting the mock-up for a safe landing…. The space agency said it was torn and didn’t inflate properly [Scientific American]. This caused the other parachutes to inflate while the mock-up was going too fast; a NASA video shows that they inflated correctly but immediately tore away from the capsule, sending the mock-up tumbling towards the ground. In a classic understatement, NASA declared that the the result was a landing that “severely damaged the mock-up” [Wired News].