The cockpit of NASA’s Orion spacecraft glows pink from the glow of its Launch Abort System (LAS) tower, ripping away from the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and spacecraft stack. All of this occurred as planned during the epic launch of the Artemis 1 mission to the moon on November 16.
The film-like scene, which appears to be a scene from “Interstellar” or “Star Wars,” depicts the LAS flying away from the cockpit within sight of a mannequin astronaut testing out radiation and other space hazards before humans climb on board.
Lockheed Martin, which built the Orion spacecraft, tweeted the cockpit view on Friday (Dec. 1), anticipating what astronauts will see with their own eyes beginning with Artemis 2’s expected journey around the moon in 2024. Artemis 3 will be the third lunar landing mission, with more Artemis programme missions in the works.
According to NASA statistics, the SLS Launch Abort System generates enough thrust to lift 26 elephants off the ground (opens in new tab). That is more power than five F-22 jets can muster.
NASA’s version of ‘The Force’ is required to quickly and safely pull astronauts away from the SLS rocket in the event of an emergency. If the crew is successfully launched into space, the LAS tower tears away into space to reduce the mass of the capsule before its trip to the moon.
Epic video from Artemis 1 has kept the public riding along with the spacecraft as it circles the moon and returns to Earth, providing amazing live views of the lunar surface and our distant planet that have NASA engineers “giddy” with delight.
Orion is expected to splash down on December 11, following in the footsteps of previous generations of missions with their own abort systems.
Throughout crewed history, most space systems with humans on board have been outfitted with ejection seats or launch abort towers, with the exception of later missions of the space shuttle, which instead had mission abort options with the crew remaining inside the vehicle.
The Soviet Union’s Soyuz T-10-1 launch on September 26, 1983, was perhaps the most dramatic use of a real-life abort using a launch escape tower. According to Anatoly Zak, a Russian space journalist, the system saved the launching crew’s lives by pulling them away from an exploding rocket still on the launch pad.
The most recent crewed abort, on Oct. 11, 2018, during Soyuz mission MS-10 to the International Space Station, did not use the escape tower, which had already been jettisoned, but instead used an alternate abort mode to return to Earth quickly and safely. (In the video above, you can hear the abort as it happened.)
As demonstrated during a dramatic Blue Origin uncrewed launch failure of the New Shepard system on Sept. 12, 2022, private space providers have their own escape systems on their rockets. During launch, the emergency escape system pulled the capsule safely away from the booster, which was presumably destroyed. After six crewed missions with no incidents, Blue Origin is investigating the cause and plans to launch people into space again no later than 2023.