When NASA launched its Apollo missions more than 40 years ago the country stood by with bated breadth as NASA scientists attempted to put a man on the moon. More than 40 years later the space agency is once again beginning to fight in order to keep its lead in the space race and they are doing it with the Orion capsule.
The Orion capsule is part of NASA’s massive Constellation project which will replace NASA’s retired space shuttles, ferrying humans into the deep recesses of space and eventually placing more astronauts on the moon. NASA hopes the Orion capsule will ride a rocket within the next decade and eventually ferry astronauts to Mars for the first time.
Speaking to Fox News NASA Project Manager Chris Johnson says the program will undergo rigorous testing in the Arizona desert:
“We kind of put it through a different type of environment or even failure mode that we want to protect for.”
The main goal at this point is to ensure that the capsule’s parachutes properly operates when dropped from 26,000 feet. NASA engineers want to ensure that the capsule can fall back to earth safely, delivering goods back tot he planet upon completion of a successful trip.
While Orion weighs 20,000 pounds compared to a shuttles average weight of 250,000 pounds it actually offers more space for astronauts than the shuttle offered for its crew.
NASA is set to officially launch an Orion mission in 2014, an unmanned mission that will test the systems ability to reenter Earth’s atmosphere while speeding towards the ground at 20,000 miles per hour. In 2012 if everything goes as planned Orion will carry astronauts into space.
NASA is spending just under $1 billion per year to fund the project.
Here is a video NASA released in 2006 which explains the hopes of the Orion capsule project: