Gearing up for an eventual manned mission to the Red Planet, Mars, NASA, on Monday unveiled the capsule that will land astronauts onto the planet, unveiling the Orion space capsule before guests and dignitaries at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The development of the Orion space capsule has happened despite many budget cuts and setbacks at NASA but its unveiling has shown that the US space agency is intent on getting its astronauts to Mars and ready to go ahead with its plans for deep space exploration.
Since the shuttle Atlantis made its final landing in July of last year, NASA called it a day to its shuttle program which had put men on the moon but it is now hoped that with the Orion space capsule, which is planned to undergo an unmanned test flight in 2014, manned mission may once again resume.
Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said, "Orion's arrival at Kennedy is an important step in meeting the president's goal to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and to Mars in the 2030s. As NASA acquires services for delivery of cargo and crew to the International Space Station and other low-Earth destinations from private companies, NASA can concentrate its efforts on building America's next generation space exploration system to reach destinations for discovery in deep space," adding that, “This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation’s great space exploration story.”
For its test flight in 2014, the Orion capsule, which will carry four astronauts will be put atop a Delta 4 rocket and will orbit the earth at a distance of around 3,600 miles from the earth’s surface, nearly 15 times more than the distance that the International Space Station (ISS) presently orbits. After making two full earth orbits, the Orion capsule will be released and will reenter earth’s atmosphere at a speed of nearly 20,000mph, from which NASA scientists will hope to see how the capsule’s heat shielding will fair. The Orion space capsule is based upon the design of the previous capsules from the Apollo program but are much larger than their predecessors, with the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) able to house four astronauts instead of three, although it is large enough to potentially house a sis member crew. Orion will stand at nearly 5 meters wide, and will be able to provide an artificial environment to the astronauts for up to 21 days.
The Orion test flight will also be testing out NASA’s next generation booster rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.