Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NASA's Orion begins road to space travel

Lockheed Martin unveiled a new spacecraft this week that was originally meant to ferry astronauts to the moon but may first be used as an emergency escape vehicle for the International Space Station.

At the same time that the company was taking the wraps off of Orion, it also was showing off a new massive test facility near Denver. The 41,000-square-foot facility is designed to simulate deep-space environments, as well as missions to an asteroid or the moon.

Slated to conduct its first orbital flight test as early as 2013, the Orion spacecraft is set to undergo testing in the new facility to make sure it's able to endure the harsh environments of deep space.

Orion is on track to begin running real space missions by 2016.

John Karas, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin's Human Space Flight programs, said in a statement, "Our nation's next bold step in exploration could begin by 2016."

"Orion was designed from inception to fly multiple, deep-space missions," Karas said. "The spacecraft is an incredibly robust, technically advanced vehicle capable of safely transporting humans to asteroids, Lagrange Points and other deep space destinations that will put us on an affordable and sustainable path to Mars."

Orion was first conceived as part of NASA's Constellation program, which was geared to return humans to the moon by 2020. However, last year the Obama administration scrapped the over-budget and behind-schedule Constellation program, deciding instead to focus on sending astronauts to Mars and further into the solar system.

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