Today NASA is testing the first deep-space capsule since the Apollo missions of the Sixties and Seventies – the first step towards a manned mission to Mars.
The Orion capsule will make its first uncrewed flight test today, launching from Cape Canaveral – but will eventually carry the first people to walk on Mars.
It’s the first new manned spacecraft since the Space Shuttle, and the first built for deep space (the empty regions between planets) since Apollo.
NASA plan to launch the spacecraft aboard a Delta IV heavy rocket, orbit the Earth twice, swinging out to a height of 3,600 miles up, before splashing down into the Pacific.
The U.S. General Accounting Office has estimated that the Orion mission will cost up to £14 billion from this test launch until the first manned tests in 2021.
NASA said in an official statement, ‘In the not-too-distant future, astronauts destined to be the first people to walk on Mars will leave Earth aboard an Orion spacecraft.
‘Carried aloft by the tremendous power of a Space Launch System rocket, our explorers will begin their journey to Mars, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.’
Orion is the first spacecraft built for astronauts destined for deep space since the storied Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s.
One of Orion’s early missions in the 2020s will send astronauts to explore an asteroid, which will be placed in a stable orbit around the moon using a robotic spacecraft.
‘As development continues on Orion, astronauts aboard the International Space Station are helping us learn how to protect the human body for longer durations, which missions to Mars will require,’ the agency says.
‘Researchers operating increasingly advanced rovers and spacecraft on and around Mars are revealing the planet’s history while characterizing its environment to better prepare for human explorers. Here on Earth, the U.S. spaceflight industry is building and testing next generation technologies NASA will need to send astronauts to Mars and return them safely.’