Concept of NASA's Space Launch System. (Photo : NASA / Reuters)
NASA is proud to showcase its most advanced spacecraft designed for human travel yet. On Monday NASA unveiled its most sophisticated spacecraft for humans yet, called the Orion spacecraft, which is supposed to propel humans further than we have ever gone before.
The Orion is described on NASA's site as "...the most advanced spacecraft ever designed. It will provide emergency abort capability, sustain astronauts during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space."
The pressurized capsule for the crew arrived Friday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will later will be built into a fully fledged spacecraft for a test flight in 2014.
Orion's 2014 test flight will put it at an orbit 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface. That's 15 times further than the International Space Station Is from the planet. The test flight, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, will be mainly to evaluate how the spacecraft behaves during launch and how it holds up to the heat during reentry.
Despite NASA's recent budget cuts to its ambitious Mars program, the Orion spacecraft is a sign that they will pursue the next biggest achievement in space: putting a man on Mars.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to Mars," proclaimed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. "We know the Orion capsule is a critical part of the system that's going to take us there."
The Orion spacecraft is planned to launch in 2017 as part of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and was part of the no-longer-active Constellation Program.
"Work is under way on America's next great spacecraft that will surpass the boundaries within which humanity has been held," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"In a facility that once processed cargo for space shuttles and various components for the International Space Station, hundreds of people at Kennedy are coupling advanced hardware assembly systems with a new human-rated spacecraft designed for deep space travel.. It is a fitting testament to the American work force at Kennedy that has enabled the exploration of space for 50 years is again working on hardware that will extend human presence throughout the solar system."