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SpaceX shares thrilling Crew Dragon parachute test

NASA and SpaceX take another step toward launching astronauts from US soil.


The Crew Dragon capsule will still be able to land with just three working parachutes.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

What do you do if your spaceship comes in for a landing and one of your parachutes doesn't work right? You hope the rest will do the job and get you back to Earth safely. That's the thinking behind a Crew Dragon safety test SpaceX shared to Twitter on Sunday.

The video shows a stand-in for the Crew Dragon capsule exiting an airplane and floating gently to the ground using just three parachutes.

"SpaceX team has completed 13 successful tests in a row of upgraded Mark 3 parachutes for Crew Dragon," SpaceX tweeted. "Most recent test demonstrated the parachute system's ability to land the spacecraft safely in the unlikely event that one of the four main parachutes fails."

An uncrewed Crew Dragon spaceship successfully docked with the International Space Station early in 2019, but it's not ready to carry humans into space just yet.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX founder Elon Musk appeared together at SpaceX headquarters in early October to show they're on the same page when it comes to the development of Crew Dragon. They both emphasized the importance of passing all safety tests before astronauts get on board.

This string of successful parachute tests bodes well for the next phase, which includes a critical in-flight abort test to make sure the capsule can successfully separate from the rocket in case of an emergency after liftoff.

SpaceX is making an effort to keep the public up to date on how testing is going. The company posted a fiery video of a test of Crew Dragon's upgraded launch escape system thrusters on Oct. 25.

Bridenstine and Musk are hopeful the first crewed mission could launch in the first half of 2020. Actually delivering NASA astronauts to the ISS would be a major triumph for the much-delayed Commercial Crew Program, which also includes Boeing's Starliner.

If all goes well, NASA won't have to hitch rides on Russian ships any longer. It would mark the start of a new era in US spaceflight. We just have to wait a little longer.