NASA staffs and partners are currently celebrating the successful trip of Orion spaceship to outer space and back, and their joy is anchored on Orion’s successful test of its heat shield, avionics, and major systems in deep space environments; but then, NASA is already mapping out greater assignments for Orion and other deep space spacecrafts from 2018 ahead.
Orion successfully blasted 3,600 miles or 5,800 kilometers into space and then splashed down into the Pacific Ocean from where it was retrieved after its four and half hour unmanned mission into space. And according to Mark Geyer, Orion program manager, “We really pushed Orion as much as we could to give us real data that we can use to improve Orion’s design going forward.”
To this end, NASA has designed the future of Orion to go beyond Earth into an asteroid and then later to Mars as a manned flying machine ferrying passengers to the red planet.
But one thing: a different Orion is being designed and constructed by Lockheed Martin for a 2018 unmanned flight called Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). It will cruise moon and then return to Earth a week after navigating deep space – the current Orion that just splashed into the Pacific Ocean will be refurbished for a launch-abort system in 2018, and this is made to get astronauts out of danger in case of any launch emergency.
The current Orion EFT-1 was deployed aboard the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy Rocket, but the proposed Orion EM-1 will be deployed aboard the Space Launch System megarocket (SMS) – in a test flight of the SLS launcher currently being constructed by NASA. Much later, the Orion and SLS will embark on Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) for a crew flight that involves the capsule and the rocket at the same for robotic probes.
The purpose of all these preliminary flights is to get astronauts to Mars and back to Earth again in a 6 months journey that will accommodate astronauts in space for up to 21 days at a time. And scientists are currently developing the habitat module that will be needed by astronauts to make the journey to Mars at the proposed time.