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Orion … Out of This World

December 2nd, 2014

Orion ready for launch Thursday, December 4, 2014. Photo credit: NASA Orion Spacecraft via Flickr

We may soon be another step closer to getting an astronaut into deep space, eventually including Mars.

On Thursday morning NASA is planning to launch its new, biggest and best spacecraft — called Orion — into space.

It’s a test flight so there won’t be any astronauts on board, but it’s important because they’ll be recreating some of the conditions for when there will be a crew on board.

Orion will orbit around the Earth twice, the second time going 15 times higher than the International Space Station. It will also be going through, and past, an area of intense cosmic radiation known as the Van Allen Belts. The data from this test flight will make sure it’s okay for astronauts.

Courtesy NASA Orion press kit

Re-entry will also be tricky. From that far into space, Orion will be screaming back to Earth at 20,000 miles per hour … but needs to slow to 20 miles per hour (1/1000 of that) to touchdown gently into the Pacific Ocean. The brakes will have to be put on slowly so there’s a succession of parachutes, the last ones are big enough to cover a football field.

The space capsule could reach 4,000 degrees Farenheit (2,200+ degrees Celsius) during re-entry — hotter than traveling through molten lava, and hot enough for a nuclear reactor to meltdown. And considering there’s only 1.6 inches between the fireball on the outside and the astronauts one day on the inside, we’re sure the astronauts are all for testing it first too. Yikes!

Scientists will also be studying the data they collect to make changes if they need to, especially since everything has to be just right. There have been a few setbacks recently in the space industry. A pilot for Virgin Galactic lost his life during a test mission last month. Virgin Galactic is working toward taking tourists up into near space within the next few years. An unmanned rocket also exploded just a few seconds after take-off, also last month. That mission was supposed to take supplies up to the astronauts at the International Space Station.

And with only  one more test flight  after this before the flight with a crew planned for 2021 (7 years, not a lot of time), we’re trusting and testing the science … but we’ll have our fingers crossed for a little extra luck too.

This is a great video explaining the mission. And you’ll be able to watch Orion’s launch live at NASA TV .

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