The Orion Spacecraft: One Step Closer to a Mars Mission

SPACE MISSIONS - The Orion Spacecraft is a capsule designed to carry humans deep into our solar system and return them safely to Earth. A basic prototype of the capsule has now been launched for a (very) short trip into deep space, without any passengers on board.

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With this launch, NASA wanted to test some of the riskiest steps in an Orion flight, such as separations, radiation effects, and re-entry into the atmosphere. After a successful flight and landing in the ocean, the capsule was picked up by a special amphibious ship and brought back to NASA for analysis.

The most remarkable thing about this first Orion mission is the use of old models and technology. The Orion resembles the 1960s Apollo missions both in design and contents. The capsule has the same cone shape and is equipped with a computer that is ancient by the standards of today’s average computer owner. The heat shields are basically made from familiar 1960s material as well. NASA explains all this by saying that this older technology is simply safer and more robust than newer inventions. 

As the final product, Orion will allow four people to travel in deep space for up to 21 days. More people can come along, but then the maximum travel time will be less because they will run out of resources more quickly. Orion can bring man to the Moon again, or to an - at this point still imaginary - Mars Transfer System. The next Orion test is scheduled for 2018.

Now what does this first Orion mission really tell us? If you are a realist, you will say that we are still a very far from being able to visit Mars. Orion is far from finished, and it will take us no further than to a Mars Transfer System, that hasn’t been built yet. If you are a Moon landing sceptic, you now have to admit that we could actually have been to the Moon. Orion partly demonstrates that such a mission is possible with 1960s technology.

But if you are open to alternative versions of human history, you may once again wonder if this is new at all. Are we the first ones to come up with the idea of building such a capsule for space travel? Ancient archeological finds include images that are remarkably similar to today’s capsule and astronauts. Could the same scene have taken place in ancient times? Did either humans or aliens figure out how to build and use such a capsule before?