NASA envisions a future where private companies will one day shuttle astronauts into space -- but first those companies have to prove their spacecraft are ready to handle every possible emergency situation.
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Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX were awarded multi-billion dollar deals in 2014 for development of spacecraft to shuttle astronauts to and from space. While we've seen plenty of photos and video of SpaceX testing its crew Dragon vessel, less has been seen of Boeing's Starliner.
The spacecraft is designed to deploy parachutes and land softly back on Earth, however a new photo released by NASA this week shows the Starliner taking a plunge into a 20-foot-deep Hydro Impact Basin at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
"Although the spacecraft is designed to land on land, Boeing is testing the Starliner’s systems in water to ensure astronaut safety in the unlikely event of an emergency during launch or ascent," NASA explained. "Testing allows engineers to understand the performance of the spacecraft when it hits the water, how it will right itself and how to handle rescue and recovery operations."
The test is just the latest in the qualification phase before NASA signs off on allowing the vessel to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.