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The Orion test spacecraft launching on a test of its abort system. Photo: NASA

NASA successfully tested the escape system for the Orion crew capsule Tuesday that would be used to pull a crew of astronauts away from a failing rocket in the moments after launch.

Why it matters: This uncrewed test marked an important step toward NASA's goal of landing astronauts back on the surface of the Moon as part of its Artemis program by 2024.

NASA hopes to use its Orion capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to make that mission a reality. The first test flight for the integrated system is expected in 2020, though some reports suggest it will likely be delayed.

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

Details: The test took about 3 minutes, with a test version of Orion flying to an altitude of about 6 miles attached to a modified Peacekeeper missile, according to NASA.

  • The abort was then triggered, and Orion was pulled away from the rocket by its abort motor.
  • From there, the abort system's attitude control motor "flipped the capsule end-over-end to properly orient it, and then the jettison motor fired, releasing the crew module for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean," NASA said in a statement.
  • During a typical abort, Orion would deploy parachutes to slow its speed before splashdown, but in this case, NASA allowed the test article to crash into the ocean instead.
  • NASA will now spend time analyzing the data gathered during the test and collecting the flight recorders jettisoned by Orion on its way back to Earth.

Between the lines: While the test appears to have been a success, it's also been a long time coming. The Orion and SLS programs have experienced years of delays due to budget and technical issues.

Go deeper

Updated 22 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.