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One small step for NASA’s Orion, but a good stride towards making space an exciting place once more

orion1Space exploration took a significant stride this week as NASA’s Orion capsule was powered up for the first time.  The craft has 66,000 parts so far which have been manufactured in many different places and shipped to the Kennedy Space Centre for assembly.  It rather calls to mind John Glen’s observation on his Mercury programme flight, “How would you feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder.”  Orion has many more parts to come, and now looks quite different to how it will appear within its streamlined conical cladding.  This powered up test was to check its management computer together with its power and data distribution system.

Orion is designed as a deep space vehicle to take astronauts far from Earth orbit, first to an asteroid and then ultimately to Mars and other destinations within the solar system.  Its first flight test next autumn on a Delta IV rocket will shoot it 3,600 miles up, way beyond the near-Earth International Space Station.  Without a crew it will complete two orbits if all goes well, and re-enter the atmosphere at 20,000mph.  Later missions will see it integrated with its service module and launched atop NASA’s new Space Launch System heavy lifter.

With all of the private spaceflight ventures and the steady progress of NASA’s Orion, space is at long last beginning to recapture some of the excitement of its earlier programmes, and perhaps will catch the imagination of young people and fire them up to think of careers in space for themselves.

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