January 31, 2012
Orion Test Flight Planned For 2014
NASA said it is aiming for an unmanned test flight of its Orion spacecraft beyond lower Earth orbit in early 2014.
The spacecraft, being developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin, will loop twice around Earth, extending nearly 3,700 miles away.
This distance will be the farthest the U.S. space program has gone since the Apollo missions back in the early 1970s.
The test will determine whether Orion is capable of surviving the re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, which can hit temperatures of 4,000 degrees.
"The entry part of the test will produce data needed to develop a spacecraft capable of surviving speeds greater than 20,000 mph and safely return astronauts from beyond Earth orbit," Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier said in a press release. "This test is very important to the detailed design process in terms of the data we expect to receive."
NASA said Orion will make a water landing and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions.
The space agency is developing the new craft to launch astronauts to asteroids, the Moon, Mars and other destinations aboard the new Space Launch System (SLS).
This test will take astronauts "farther into space than ever before, create U.S. jobs, and provide the cornerstone for America's future human spaceflight efforts," according to the press release.
"President Obama and Congress have laid out an ambitious space exploration plan, and NASA is moving out quickly to implement it," NASA Associate Administrator for Communications David Weaver said. "This flight test will provide invaluable data to support the deep space exploration missions this nation is embarking upon."
A test version of NASA's Orion spacecraft is currently on tour in the lower part of the U.S., giving residents in three states a chance to see a full scale test version of the vehicle.
The test spacecraft visited Dallas, Texas this past weekend, and will be stopping in Hunstville, Alabama on Wednesday and Thursday.
Image Caption: Orion in lunar orbit, with the Earth in the background. Image credit: Lockheed Martin Corp.
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