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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.

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

Trump nominee Christopher Waller confirmed to Fed board

Christopher Waller at a Senate Banking hearing earlier this year. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

The Senate voted 48-47 on Thursday to confirm Trump nominee Christopher Waller to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — filling one of the two vacant slots on the influential economic body.

Why it matters: It's one of the last marks left on the Fed board by Trump, who has nominated five of its six members.

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Boeing gets huge 737 Max order from Ryanair, boosting hope for quick rebound

Ryanair low cost airline Boeing 737-800 aircraft as seen over the runway. Photo by Nik Oiko/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Dublin-based Ryanair said it would add 75 more planes to an existing order for Boeing's 737 Max airplanes, a giant vote of confidence as Boeing seeks to revive sales of its best-selling plane after a 20-month safety ban following two fatal crashes.

The big picture: Ryanair's big order, on the heels of breakthrough vaccine news, is also a promising sign that the devastated airline industry might recover from the global pandemic sooner than expected.

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Trump sets auction for Arctic refuge drilling rights before Biden takes office

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Interior Department on Thursday said it will auction oil drilling leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in early January.

Why it matters: The procedural step would make it harder for President-elect Joe Biden to thwart drilling in the region, even though any actual development is years away.