In the ongoing effort to explore this solar system’s Red Planet, NASA will launch its first flight test of Orion, the spacecraft that may one day carry humans to the distant planet Mars.
The test flight is scheduled for 7:05 a.m. on Dec. 4, and is one of the early phases in a planned series of missions to explore Mars, according to NASA. The capsule will travel from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to about 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, where it will encounter and be tested by high radiation zones. When the test is complete, the capsule will splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles southwest of San Diego, according to the flight schedule.
This week’s flight is intended to test a number of Orion’s key systems before future missions with humans aboard. The capsule’s heat shield, for instance, will experience temperatures nearing 4,000 F during its return. Orion’s launch abort system will also be tested, what with it being a crucial fallback when taking human lives into account on future missions.
Although Orion will be unmanned this week, NASA plans to launch the spacecraft, complete with human pilots, in 2021. One of the spacecraft’splanned missions during this decade will land humans on an asteroid, which NASA will place in orbit around the moon using a robotic spacecraft.
The Asteroid Redirect Mission has a wealth of potential research options –– Solar Electric Propulsion, for example, will allow us to send cargo to Mars prior to human missions. The area around the moon (cis-lunar space) is also helpful when testing advanced spacewalking suits, gravity navigation and radiation protection.
NASA says that Thursday’s test is integral in the agency’s plan to land humans on Mars in the 2030s. The wealth of knowledge humans will gain during this week, the next few years, and the next several decades could help us travel deeper into our solar system, and bring us closer to understanding it