Since I was a kid, one of my all-time favorite magazines has been Popular Mechanics. When their writers get into a story, they jump in with both feet, and the result is sheer delight.
So when I began reading this great article on NASA's return to the moon via the Orion vehicle by their very competent David Noland – I could not stop “turning pages”. O.K., I know you don't “turn pages” anymore, it's more like scroll, click, scroll, click, but after reading a lead like this, you will not be able to stop either:
One hundred and eighty-five miles above the planet, suspended between curving, blue horizon and starry blackness, a four-man spacecraft floats in low-Earth orbit. The year is 2020, and the situation routine. Suddenly, a bright tongue of flame erupts from the rear of the craft, signaling a maneuver that hasn't been attempted since before most living humans were born. The craft thrusts sharply forward, away from the marbled orb. Five minutes later, streaking at 25,000 mph, it breaks free of the Earth's gravity and heads out into the void.
In addition to placing Orion at the top of the rocket and away from falling debris, NASA's return to a vertical "stack" architecture permits a launch abort system (LAS) that can blast the capsule to safety. According to the agency, this capability will make Orion 10 times safer than the shuttle. The heart of the launch abort system is the abort motor. In case of a problem, this ATK solid-fuel rocket, with four outward-canted reverse-flow nozzles at its apex, will automatically fire for 2 seconds with some 500,000 pounds of thrust — more kick than the Atlas rocket that boosted John Glenn into orbit. In a launchpad abort, this brief 15-g jolt would yank the Orion off the top of the rocket and clear of any fireball, propelling it to 600 mph and 6000 ft. Meanwhile, eight attitude thrusters and two small adjustable wings, called canards, would steer Orion east from Cape Canaveral out over the ocean to a spot 5000 ft. offshore. Parachutes would deploy at about 4000 ft. for a splashdown next to waiting recovery boats.I'm not going to tease you with any more of Noland's exquisite prose, but you really owe it to yourself to go visit popularmechanics.com and read the entire article. I've been waiting for a good dose of reporting that explains exactly what the next generation of NASA's endeavors will look like, and this story delivers the goods.
And if you've been neglecting the almost required reading found in Popular Mechanics for too long, join me as we again return to one of this nation's truly great publications.