NASA is set to embark on a journey that will usher in a new era for Americans in space, but we’ll have to wait for another day to see it happen.
The space agency was set to launch its Orion spacecraft on Thursday for a test flight around the Earth. The original launch time was set for 7:05 a.m. ET, but the launch was pushed back multiple times due to winds, some minor technical issues and, at one point, a stray boat.
NASA eventually scrubbed Thursday’s launch. The second attempt will be on Friday with the same launch window of 7:05 a.m. to 9:44 a.m. ET.
Orion is unmanned — for now. The spacecraft is capable of carrying humans deeper into space, beyond the moon. NASA’s ultimate goal for Orion is a roundtrip manned Mars mission.
How the test flight will work
NASA’s Orion historic test flight will last less than five hours.
Orion is aiming for two orbits on its first run. On the second lap around Earth, the spacecraft should reach a peak altitude of 3,600 miles, high enough to ensure a re-entry speed of 20,000 mph. NASA will test Orion’s high-speed re-entry systems such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes and the heat shield.
Splashdown will be in the Pacific off the Mexican Baja coast, where Navy ships are waiting for the recovery.
Lockheed Martin Corp., which is handling the $370 million test flight for NASA, opted for the powerful Delta IV rocket this time around. Future Orion missions will rely on NASA’s still-in-development megarocket, known as SLS, or Space Launch System. Orion’s first launch with SLS is targeted for 2018.
The video below shows how this test flight will work for Orion:
NASA’s last trip beyond low-Earth orbit in a vehicle built for astronauts was Apollo 17 in December 1972. Though the space agency is using new technology for Orion, which can carry six astronauts, it learned a lot from Apollo, which transported three.
What is so important about Mars
Mars is a harsh planet. It’s choked with dust. There’s no oxygen. It has a paper-thin atmosphere. It’s dry, and the temperature there is always well below freezing.
There are miles of sweeping deserts, plunging canyons and mountains higher than the tallest on Earth. But the landscape all painted with the same color palette—rust orange, milk chocolate browns and muted reds. And it never ends. Even the sky is a hazy orange almost all day.
But Mars wasn’t always this way. Mars has a past — one with water and life. On ancient Mars, you would have woken up to a sky that always seemed as though it were in limbo between sunrise and sunset. At noon, you would have seen bright pink with hints of orange. There was water, but it probably wasn’t blue.
The story of Mars is actually one of an underdog. Had it not been for its small size, this planet’s atmosphere would have stayed intact and may have very well continued to thrive.
So, what happened to our neighbor? And, perhaps more importantly for humans, does Earth face a similar fate? How Mars met this violent, desolate end is still a mystery, one that we can probably only solve by getting humans there.
After the $2.5 billion Curiosity rover, which is still trekking around and doing science on Mars, President Obama vowed to get a manned mission off the ground in the 2020s.Source: By Amanda Wills / Mashable