Video: See our full interview with Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich

Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript. (video link)

Our “The Greatest Leap” series is all about the triumph of humankind’s first lunar landing, but putting the events surrounding Apollo into the right historical context necessarily requires a peek at what NASA is doing today and how the agency’s modern approach to leaving low-Earth orbit mirrors—and differs from—what we did fifty years ago. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the near future of human space flight belongs not to orbiters and space planes, but to the old tried and true space capsule.

There are many reasons for this, but they tend to come down to the fact that at least with the current state of the art in materials science and aeronautics, the design attributes for the “plane” part tend to make it a terrible vehicle for atmospheric re-entry, and the attributes that make it a better re-entry vehicle tend to make it a terrible plane. Capsules, on the other hand, are essentially perfect space vehicles, sacrificing a spaceplane’s “land almost anywhere if the runway is long enough” convenience for massively increased safety and predictability during re-entry (capsules are self-righting in the atmosphere, for example, while the Space Shuttle required constant active control as it returned to Earth).

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Read the original at Ars Technica.