NASA’s test launch of Orion, its spacecraft for future Mars missions, seems well on course and devoid of any problems so far.
On December 4th NASA will launch Orion from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on board the Delta IV Heavy rocket, without any astronauts aboard it. The spacecraft will then undertake a four and half hour journey where it will orbit Earth two times, carrying the modules 3,600 miles above Earth, or about 16 times higher than the average altitude of the International Space Station, before plunging back in the atmosphere at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour and landing in the Pacific Ocean. NASA has deemed the event as Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1).
“EFT-1 is absolutely the biggest thing that this agency is going to do this year,” comments Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development. “This is really our first step on our journey to Mars.”
Even if everything goes right in the launch, it will take NASA decades to make the first manned flight with the spacecraft. The people at NASA believe the eventual flight might happen somewhere around 2030. Right now though, they are hoping for a good test flight and to gather as much data as they can which will help in making Orion better.
Earlier this week NASA tied up with Sesame Street in a hope to get young audience interested in the program. The popular Muppets on the show have been running a ten day countdown through its program and social network handles, by telling its followers interesting facts about the spacecraft.
NASA analytical team for this flight, The SCIFLI team (Scientifically Calibrated In-Flight Imagery) is based at NASA’s Langley Research Center, in Hampton, Virginia. They hope to collect valuable data and study its retry back into Earth’s atmosphere.
SCIFLI principal investigator Tom Horvath said “This is going to be a tough one. Orion will come through the atmosphere at 20,000 miles an hour as a tiny dot in the sky. With the capsule initially hundreds of miles away, it is like we are looking for it through a small soda straw. It is all about getting the aircraft positioned at the right location at a precise point in time. The action will be in the last minute. Temperatures will go from very low to up to 2,204.4 degrees Celsius.”