NASA is all set to launch its new Orion spacecraft on 4 December, which is expected to facilitate a future human mission to Mars. The unmanned capsule is poised to make a two-orbit, 4.5-hour flight around Earth on Thursday.
Orion will be launched from a Delta IV heavy rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex for a four-hour flight before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. The journey will test the spacecraft's systems that are most critical for its safety.
The gumdrop-shaped Orion is built for four passengers; however, there will be no humans aboard on its maiden journey on 4 December morning.
Captain Kirk, Iron Man, Slimey the Worm from "Sesame Street", and a T-Rex, however, will be on board. This impressive 'crew' of the Star Trek action figures, a Marvel challenge coin, a Muppet, a dinosaur fossil and an Apollo lunar spacesuit are among the souvenirs and mementos of historically significant items that will fly in Orion in anticipation of the spacecraft's future of discovery, NASA said. A microchip that contains the names of over a million people who submitted their names to be part of NASA's exploration efforts will also make the trip.
— NASA (@NASA) December 1, 2014
A second test launch of Orion is scheduled for 2018, wherein the unmanned spacecraft will go on a trip around the moon. Once Orion is cleared for space mission, it will be paired with a new heavy-lift NASA rocket, called the Space Launch System (SLS), which is under development.
The first manned mission on Orion would ideally occur in 2021, during which the spaceship would go around the moon again. In the late 2020s, NASA aspires to send Orion with astronauts to an asteroid and by late 2030s to Mars.
"Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities," explains NASA. Orion will be the first spaceship since the Apollo programme in 1960s to carry astronauts beyond a few hundred miles from the earth.
On 2 December at 12 pm EST, NASA gave a worldwide live briefing on the "Journey to Mars" mission and Orion. The NASA social also answered questions people posted on Reddit regarding the mission on 2 December 5 pm (EST).
— NASA_SLS (@NASA_SLS) December 2, 2014