|The Orion space capsule gets a visit. |
Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Stafford
In 2017, NASA plans to send the brand new Orion spacecraft, the future of NASA's crewed spacecraft with the classic gumdrop shape those of us who miss Apollo love so well, boldly farther than we have gone before. The first flight (not a test flight), planned for 2017, will send the uncrewed spacecraft out 40,000 miles beyond the moon. Its purpose is to allow the team's engineers to check out the vehicle's performance, along with that of the Space Launch System (SLS) designed to get it there. Consider this a 25 day shake down run to make sure the system is fit for people.
This location is a stable point near the moon. But why there, you ask? Because, as early as 2021, NASA intends to send a crew out in this vehicle to a near earth asteroid that would be roughly in that general region. So, if all goes well, the next decade will see humans boldly go to an asteroid.
This plan replaces the previous 10 day mission as the first flight. That trip was to go to high lunar orbit. Now we're going further and making history in the process.
NASA also plans for the first test flight of the Orion and its SLS in September of 2014. That trip will be a short hop and a jump compared to the first flight, extending a mere 3,600 miles above earth. But it will be no cake walk, as the Orion capsule will reenter the atmosphere at 20,000 mph and survive 4,000 degrees of reentry heat, making sure it is up to the task.
So, big steps ahead ... provided the budgetary overlords in Congress and the "infinite wisdom" of subsequent administrations stick to this game plan. Time will tell.
For more information straight from NASA, see: http://www.nasa.gov/content/first-mission-of-space-launch-system-with-orion-to-preview-asteroid-visit/#.Ud6TafnVC8A
For news of the big years ahead, 2014-2015, in crewed spaceflight testing, see my post: http://jsbrookspresents.blogspot.com/2013/07/2014-2015-big-years-for-crewed.html