March 31, 2009

NASA’s Orion Mockup Visits The National Mall

Visitors to the National Mall in Washington got a preview of a built-to-scale mockup of NASA's Orion space capsule that is designed to bring astronauts to the moon and even to Mars.

Built by the US Navy, the 18,000-pound Orion space capsule will replace the space shuttle in 2010.

Orion's mockup version was exhibited on a trailer in front of the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.

"People look at this, and they say, 'Wow, that looks a lot like Apollo.' Well, that's done on purpose," said NASA Project Manager for the Post-Landing Orion Recovery Test Don Pearson, referring to Orion's likeness to the Apollo spacecraft of the 1960s.

"They had some great designs and analysis back then, and we've looked at those things. We've decided, 'Hey, let's reuse a lot of that.'"

But unlike the Apollo module, which could only hold three astronauts, Orion is built to carry six.

After its stay at the National Mall, the Orion's mockup twin will be taken off the coast of Florida so that scientists can determine how it reacts in water in order to predict how well it would fare during a splashdown in the ocean.

"We're just very proud to build this, do some testing and demonstrate to America that we're moving beyond the space shuttle onto another generation of spacecraft," said Pearson.

Orion could be sent to the moon as early as 2020, and a journey to Mars may be possible by the mid 2030s.

"The reason we're doing all of this is because we want to go to Mars," Pearson said.

But a journey to Mars would require three years "“ six to nine months to travel there and the rest of the time would be spent waiting for the planets to realign to allow entry back to Earth, according to Reuters.

"We're not confident in our technology yet to be able to last for three years without things breaking that are unrepairable," Pearson said.

NASA intends to practice what it wants to do on Mars on the Moon by taking several trips that will put astronauts on the planet for six months.

"That's really the goal -- to put humans on Mars, and going to the moon is our testing ground in order to do it," Pearson explained.


Image Caption: Spectators gather around a mock-up of the Orion capsule that will carry astronauts back to the moon. The capsule is being displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (NASA)


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