Details emerge about Orion capsule that will test land in waters off San Diego shoreline

SAN DIEGO - New details are emerging about a space test that will be landing in the waters off San Diego's shoreline.

For the first time in almost four decades, a Navy ship is set to recover a NASA capsule.

For more than a decade, Navy aircraft carriers and helicopters were there to retrieve the capsules, which eventually gave way to the shuttle. With the shuttle program disbanded, a blast from the past soon take a plunge near San Diego.

"It's pretty doggone exciting and it's great they're doing it right here," said Terry Brennan, curator of the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

An animation from NASA shows the agency's next generation Orion capsule rocketing into space before separating and parachuting into ocean waters.

The first test of this water entry will take place off Virginia later this year.      

The final test will take place a few miles off San Diego shores in January. When the Orion capsule makes its landing, a ship will be waiting for it.

The ship assigned to the recovery is the USS San Diego, which is not an aircraft carrier but an LPD amphibious ship with a flight and well deck.

The ship will position itself near the capture. Navy divers will winch it down and reel it part way in before opening the well deck.

"It's a system similar to what's used in an amphibious assault ship where the whole back of the boat opens up and it's flooded…  You can float anything that's on the surface right into the rear compartment," said Brennan.

The technique is critical because the Orion capsule is more than two times heavier than past capsules.

Also, the use of the amphibious ship and not a giant aircraft carrier will make it cost-effective, which is a must for the future of the space program set to make its first splash in a San Diego splashdown.

The tests will be unmanned. Orion's first mission is also unmanned. It will take place September 2014 when the scheduled splashdown is expected about 600 miles south of San Diego.

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