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Sci-Tech

Astronaut's-eye view of Orion re-entry is hot, hot, hot

A NASA video shows what an astronaut would experience catching a ride on Orion as it re-enters Earth's atmosphere.

Orion launch
Orion lifts off on its maiden test flight. NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA is pretty excited about Orion, the space agency's next-generation manned spacecraft designed to take humans way out to visit an asteroid, and hopefully Mars. A successful four-hour test flight earlier this month took Orion into space, sent it around the planet and then brought it back down for a watery landing in the Pacific Ocean. Now, NASA has released video showing what Orion saw on its way back to the surface of our blue marble.

Though Orion's test flight was unmanned, the video shows what an astronaut would have seen if peeking out a window during re-entry. The video covers a 10-minute window where the spacecraft returns through the atmosphere, culminating with the ocean landing. It starts off calmly enough, with a sliver of blue Earth ahead. Orion then enters the atmosphere while traveling at 20,000 mph.

Hot ionized gas surrounds the craft and the plasma changes color as the temperature ramps up. We see a fiery view as friction increases and the heat of re-entry reaches its peak. A shimmering ghost-like image appears as Orion's heat shield withstands a rollicking heat of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

This real-life footage is as gripping as any sci-fi film. NASA made a good choice on the soundtrack. The space-y synth music helps amp up the dramatic element.

Once Orion makes it past the danger zone of extreme heat, it's smooth sailing as clouds come into view and the spacecraft nears its ocean destination. The parachutes open to slow the decent, looking like jellyfish unfurling in water. In the end, Orion splashes safely down in the ocean for recovery. Though it's only Orion's first test flight, it's already been quite a journey.