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Mini space shuttle skids off runway in test; damage minimal

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 6:36 p.m.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A new, smaller version of NASA's space shuttle is recuperating from a rough first landing.

The Dream Chaser space plane is being designed by Sierra Nevada Corp. It's vying to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station in four or five more years.

The Nevada-based company on Saturday tested a full-scale model at Edwards Air Force Base in California. A helicopter dropped the unmanned craft from 12,500 feet in a first free flight reminiscent of NASA's drop tests of the shuttle prototype Enterprise in the 1970s.

Everything worked well for the automated Dream Chaser model until the end, when the left landing gear deployed too late and the test vehicle skidded off the runway.

Company space systems chief Mark Sirangelo said on Tuesday that damage was minor. The left gear was attached, and the tire wasn't shredded, he said. The crew cabin area was unscathed — astronauts would have been uninjured, he said. The flight computers never stopped working, and nothing critical was damaged.

Sirangelo stressed that the minute-long test flight was a success despite the ending.

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