NASA Reveals Orion Capsule for Manned Mars MissionsToday NASA showed off a new capsule currently in development for an eventual mission to Mars. It isn't a fantasy, either: a prototype is already completed and NASA plans on performing the first real flight with it in 2014. Manned missions will take longer, of course, with the first manned mission expected in 2021. There's no word on when the eventual Mars mission would take place, though clearly it would happen after that.
Right now the module doesn't look much like the crafts that we are used to seeing, but that is because there is no heat shield or wiring. Even in its half-formed state, however, it is getting people excited.
"Isn't this beautiful," said Senator Bill Nelson to an audience of 450 rapt Orion team members. "I know there is a lot of people here who can't wait to get their hands and fingers on this hardware.”
The very first test flight will take the Orion module further out into space than any other man-rated module since 1972. Explains Orion project manager Mark Geyer, "We are going to get about 84 percent of a lunar entry velocity, which is really going to stress the heat shield, which is exactly what we're trying to do."
The Orion module is part of the SLS initiative, aiming to restore NASA's space launch capability. Built from the scrapped Orion moon program, these vehicles will be able to carry massive payloads into orbit including, eventually, the Orion capsule. The first SLS launch is expected in 2017, meaning that the Orion capsule will have to be launched from a different lifter.
If all goes according to plan, NASA will have man-capable space launch capability by 2021.