NASA has always been a leader in space travel but the last 40 years have been limited on human space travel. NASA has continued to send humans into space over the last 40 years but these humans have only been traveling to the International Space Station which is in low earth orbit. Since the last Apollo mission in 1972 NASA has not sent humans past low earth orbit. NASA is now planning to take humans back into deep space with a new transportation vehicle known as Orion.
Orion is a crew module that has been designed to take the next set of humans beyond earth orbit and eventually take humans to Mars. The Orion crew module will also have multiple new pieces of equipment used to make this travel possible. Orion will be attached to a new Launch Abort System that is designed to separate the crew module from the rocket if something were to fail during liftoff. This Launch Abort System is designed to react within a
millisecond to any failure and will fly the crew members on board the spacecraft away from any potential danger. On the other end of Orion there will be a service module that is attached to carry the life support systems like air and water and also it has the solar panels to provide electricity to the crew. All of these will be sitting on top of the largest ever designed rocket system called the Space Launch System. The Orion crew module itself also has some new technology including the largest heat shield ever designed which will protect the spacecraft from heats up to 4000 degree Fahrenheit. Orion is designed to carry 4 crew members for up to 21 days in space.
During reentry into earths atmosphere Orion will deploy 11 parachutes to slow the spacecraft down enough for a splash landing in the Pacific ocean.
The Orion spacecraft will go through its first test flight into space December 4th where it will fly as high as 3600 miles into high radiation zones to make sure that it is safe for human space travel. This test flight will test the capabilities of Orion during reentry into earths atmosphere and will house around 1200 sensors to make sure everything is safe. The first test flight in December will not use the new Space Launch System rockets but instead fly on top of the Delta IV rocket system previously used by NASA.
The next test for Orion will be in the year 2017 where the Space Launch System will be first tested and will take Orion past the moon in a large orbit around the moon and back home to earth. After this test the first test with humans is scheduled to be around 2021 where it will take humans on the same path around the moon and back home.
If the next tests for Orion go well then the first destination is to an asteroid. The plan from NASA is to complete the Asteroid Redirect Mission which will have a spacecraft capture an asteroid and bring it back into orbit around the moon. After that asteroid is in a stable orbit around the moon NASA plans to take the Orion spacecraft up with humans to the surface of that asteroid. This will be first time that humans have ever landed on the surface of an asteroid. Once NASA has accomplished this their next goal for Orion to take humans is to the surface of Mars.
The way that NASA plans to complete the trip to Mars is actually use the Space Launch System to take supplies to Mars before humans begin to travel there. Once the supplies have made it to Mars then humans can begin the 6-8 month journey to the red planet. The initial plan is to send supplies for the trip to a stable orbit around the moon so that the astronauts can get the supplies from the moon on the way to Mars and then once they have made it to Mars would have supplies waiting for them there including their way to get back home.
The future of human space travel looks exciting with the potential of this new spacecraft and the entire journey begin next week on December 4th during Orions first test flight. The test flight can be viewed live on NASA TV and will begin at 4;05 am PST with a launch window of 2 hours, 39 minutes with splashdown scheduled for 8:29 am PST.