On Thursday, NASA will launch its new unmanned Orion test vehicle into space aboard a commercial rocket, which will orbit Earth twice, traveling 3,600 miles away from the planet on its second lap and re-entering before splashing into the Pacific Ocean.
NASA Orion Flight Test on Dec. 3 has been given a 60% “Go” by Meteorologists and a prelaunch status briefing will be held at 11 a.m. A NASA overview event with participation from social media followers will air at 1 p.m.
The launch window opens at 7:05 a.m. EST and closes 2 hours, 39 minutes later at about 9:44 a.m. The concern remains early morning precipitation at or near the Florida spaceport and NASA has reserved the Eastern Range for Friday and Saturday as well, in case Thursday’s launch opportunity is not made.
Once succesfully test, it will pave the way for future NASA spaceships which will replace and the retired space shuttles of NASA. The Orion spaceship is designed for deep space though the first one will go towards the moon.
The first experiment NASA is planning is to use a robot to capture a small asteroid and drag it back to lunar orbit. Then Orion will carry four astronauts in its next missions slated to take place in 2020s.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden hopes Thursday’s test will be a wake-up call for Americans. Unlike NASA’s plane-like winged space shuttle, last one retired in 2011, the Orion is built in a conical shape to withstand the en-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
“Winged vehicles are very, very difficult to design and build and operate,” Bolden says. “I am told by all my aerodynamics friends and my rocket friends that the conical shape is the best shape for us,” he says.
The new Orion capsule looks much like the Apollo 11 capsule that took three astronauts to the moon in 1969.
Orion or the Space Launch System is meant for the ultimate destination to Mars, but NASA will have to undertake another test apart from Thursday’s initial orbiting test. With a successful 2018 experiment, NASA will develop a crew module that will have a large and expensive habitation module.
Mark Geyer, the program manager for Orion, says NASA will eventually move on to habitation modules and other technology needed for Mars. “It’s a building-block approach,” he says, “and Orion’s the beginning of that.”