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SpaceX Destroys a Rocket to Test Escape System

Dramatic experiment assesses whether human crew can survive failure
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2020 12:30 PM CST
A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket lifts off during a test flight to demonstrate the capsule's emergency escape system at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday.   (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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(Newser) – In a counterintuitive safety test, SpaceX launched, then—less than 90 seconds later—destroyed a rocket Sunday at Cape Canaveral. The idea was to assess the survivability of the Crew Dragon capsule in a catastrophic rocket failure, NBC reports. The capsule is to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. A date has not been announced for that mission, though it could take place as soon as March, per the AP. This was the first test of the entire escape procedure; SpaceX already tested the capsule's emergency thrusters. The engines were shut down Sunday as the booster fell away in a fireball. The capsule then parachuted into the Atlantic from an altitude of about 27 miles, splashing down intact. Air Force crews were waiting offshore to practice for picking up passengers in a real rescue.

The only passengers this time were two test dummies outfitted with sensors, per the New York Times. The sensors were to measure the forces a human crew would face in an escape. "That's the main objective of this test, is to show that we can carry the astronauts safely away from the rocket in case anything's going wrong," a SpaceX official said. On Twitter, the NASA administrator celebrated the successful test, saying it "puts us on the cusp of once again launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil." (Read more SpaceX stories.)

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