NORFOLK (AP) -- The Navy and NASA have completed their first tests showcasing how they'll recover astronauts from the ocean following future missions to deep space.
On Thursday, a team of Navy divers and the crew of the USS Arlington retrieved a mock-up of the Orion space capsule from waters at Naval Station Norfolk.
The Navy hasn't been used to recover astronauts since 1975, when the USS New Orleans recovered the Apollo spacecraft. After that, astronauts began returning to Earth via the space shuttle. Once the space shuttle program was shuttered, U.S. astronauts began hitching rides aboard a Russian rocket that lands in a Kazakhstan desert.
Unlike in past recovery efforts, the Navy didn't use helicopters to retrieve Orion. Instead, a winch pulled the spacecraft into the Arlington's well deck.
"Lessons learned from these tests will be used in Navy dive team training, crew module recovery procedures, support equipment design, dockside handling procedures and equipment and personnel task loading," said Cmdr. Darren Nelson, Arlington's commanding officer.
The second major test of the crew module and recovery process is planned for early 2014 off the west coast. The tests are part of preparations for the first flight of Orion, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), in the fall of 2014.
The Orion crew module is a 16-foot, four-personnel upgrade of the Apollo capsule, NASA said. It will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. It is capable of conducting regular in-space operations (rendezvous, docking, extravehicular activity) in conjunction with payloads delivered by the Space Launch System (SLS) for missions beyond low Earth orbit. It can also be a backup system for International Space Station cargo and crew delivery.