US space agency NASA’s Mars-bound Orion spacecraft received its finishing touches yesterday, constructed well in advance of its 4 December test flight.
Plans are for Orion to be the first spacecraft to send humans into deep space, well beyond the moon and onto Mars eventually, a location now said to be more suitable for female astronauts than male. Exploring Mars has never been so popular, with the Dutch non-profit group known as Mars One also targeting trips.
“This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit, and in a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced,” said Bill Hill, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA.
“It’s thrilling to be a part of the journey now, at the beginning,” said Hill.
The December flight test will send Orion 5,793 kilometres (3,600 miles) from Earth on a two-orbit flight intended to ensure the spacecraft’s critical systems are ready for the challenges of deep-space missions.
During the 4.5-hour flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1, the unmanned Orion will travel farther than any crewed spacecraft has gone in more than 40 years before returning to Earth at speeds near 20,000mph and generating temperatures up to 2,204°C (4,000°F).