This Friday, NASA has really pushed itself forward and land-marked another awesome achievement on its way to Mars as the Orion spacecraft made its first journey to space. What’s so special about it? To start; it traveled more distance than any spacecraft that has been designed for astronauts in the last 40 years or so. Need we say more?
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said; ‘Today’s flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars. The teams did a tremendous job putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years.’
Orion was launched at 07:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station situated in Florida. The rocket that carried it is known as United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. The crew module of Orion made its way back to the Pacific Ocean, southwest of San Diego (600 miles), after about 4.5 hours.
Orion’s test was carried without the crew on-board and during the test, Orion traveled through the Van Allen belt two times while experiencing long time-spans of radiation and reached an altitude of 3600 miles above Earth. Orion didn’t hold back on speed either and tagged a speed of 20,000 mph. It also withstood temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Orion will serve to be the bridge between Mars and Earth for exploration by astronauts. This test flight will provide invaluable data pertaining to the capabilities of human Mars missions in future. Orion underwent a number of tests in space that allowed engineers to gain critical data, thus allowing them to evaluate the performance and impart improvements to the design. The flight put Orion’s heat shield, parachutes, avionics, integral spacecraft separation events and computers to test while also checking out a myriad of systems that would be responsible for keeping the astronauts safe.
Orion shall be launched on Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket for future mission. The SLS is being developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center located in Huntsville, Alabama. The first completely integrated Orion and SLS system shall be launched via 70 metric-ton SLS on Exploration Mission-1 that would see Orion travel to the retrograde orbit located around the moon.
Orion Program Manager, Mark Geyer, said; ‘We really pushed Orion as much as we could to give us real data that we can use to improve Orion’s design going forward. In the coming weeks and months we’ll be taking a look at that invaluable information and applying lessons learned to the next Orion spacecraft already in production for the first mission atop the Space Launch System rocket.’
Orion is being recovered by a team that is comprised of NASA, Lockheed Martin and US Navy personnel who are aboard the USS Anchorage. Once recovered, it will be transported to the US Naval Base San Diego from where it will be taken to Kennedy Space Center located in Florida and owned by NASA. The crew model shall be refurbished for the Ascent Abort-2 mission in 2018 where Orion’s launch abort system shall be tested.
You can visit http://www.nasa.gov/orion for further information.