Most of us will never be astronauts — sorry to break it to ya — but we can at least pretend to be aboard the Orion capsule with this video (below the fold), courtesy of NASA. Orion’s camera captured 10 minutes of footage from the time it started blazing through Earth’s atmosphere until it deployed its parachutes to slow down its descent into the ocean. You’ll even see the plasma (created by friction between the atmosphere and the heat shield) change colors as the capsule speeds up and temperature increases. NASA launched a test flight of the Lockheed-made spacecraft in early December to test its components, especially its heat shield.
The agency needed to ensure it can survive reentry before it’s used for manned missions, since the farther a spacecraft goes, the faster it hurtles through the atmosphere. Thus, Orion, which was always meant to be used for deep space exploration, will have to endure higher temperatures than a Soyuz spacecraft coming home from the ISS.