NASA Just Finished Building Its Mars-Bound Orion Spacecraft

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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NASA on Thursday announced the “finishing touches” to its new Orion spacecraft — the U.S.’s first manned platform since the retirement of the shuttle fleet in 2011, bringing the agency one step closer to its first Dec. 4 test flight, and humanity closer to its first step on Mars.

Orion’s assembled crew module, service module, launch abort system and adapter will wait in the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort System Facility until it rolls out to the launch pad on Nov. 10, where it’ll be lifted onto NASA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket. (RELATED: NASA’s New Rocket Is Powerful Enough To Damage Nearby Buildings At Launch)

“This is just the first of what will be a long line of exploration missions beyond low earth orbit, and in a few years we will be sending our astronauts to destinations humans have never experienced,” deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development Bill Hill said in a statement from NASA Thursday. “It’s thrilling to be a part of the journey now, at the beginning.”

For its first mission Orion will embark on a 4.5-hour test flight 3,600 miles above Earth, during which it will orbit the planet twice before re-entering the atmosphere at 20,000 m.p.h. and reaching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (RELATED: NASA Previews First December Test Flight Of New Orion Spacecraft, Which Will Carry Astronauts To Mars)

According to NASA, December’s Exploration Flight Test-1 will take Orion “farther than any crewed spacecraft has gone in more than 40 years” to test the spacecraft’s critical systems.

Orion will then deploy two stages of parachutes for a splashdown in the Pacific, returning to Earth with troves of flight data for NASA engineers to analyze in preparation to send astronauts deeper into space than they’ve ever gone.

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