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Science: 

8 Things you should know about NASA’s Orion

nasa-orion

By now you’ve probably heard the news that humanity is destined for Mars. If not, welcome, we’re heading to the red planet and Orion – the spacecraft that will take us there – has completed its first test flight.

If all goes to plan we’ll be walking on Mars sometime in the 2030s, but in the meantime what do we know about Orion? Here are the facts;

1) It’ll need the most powerful rocket ever

In order to launch Orion into deep space, it will require the most powerful rocket ever.  NASA’s SLS rocket will be constructed in two sizes – one weighing 77 tons and the other 143 tons. The smaller size is the one designed for humans and will require 8.4 million pounds of thrust – 10 percent more than the Saturn V used in the Apollo program.

2) It was just a test

Yes, we saw Orion blast off into space and it even orbited the earth twice – sort of like a victory lap – but it was only the first test. Orion won’t be be carrying humans anywhere until at least 2021.

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3) It can withstand some serious heat

If you’re wondering why all the hesitation, then it’s because the spacecraft needs to prove it can hold together in some pretty extreme conditions. How extreme? Well, after traveling into deep space and back it will be hit with temperatures of over 4,800 degrees. If Orion is to travel as far as the moon, it will need to be even more resilient.

4) It crashed back to Earth safely

After orbiting our planet’s surface twice, Orion finally landed back on earth with a splash – crashing down into the Pacific Ocean approximately 600 miles southwest of San Diego. The spacecraft was anchored back safely with the successful deployment of three giant parachutes.

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5) Mars isn’t the only stop

While the test launch of Orion has been billed as the first step in humanity’s mission to Mars – it’s not the only destination. NASA says it hopes to send astronauts back to the moon using this capsule in the 2020s. Hopefully this time it will be enough to convince the skeptics.

6) We’ll walk on asteroids too

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta space probe landed successfully on a comet last month but, NASA being NASA, Orion will go one further. The space agency says that human beings will be able to walk along the surface of an asteroid also sometime in the 2020s.

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7) It’s a big deal for NASA

The New York Times reports that the Orion capsule is going to cost an estimated $370 million, while its estimated that the Orion mission could cost up to $14 billion in total. There’s no such thing as bargain space exploration, then, but NASA officials claim that the recent launch is as important as the original Apollo mission.

8) But it’s not the only Mars mission

Despite huge investment, though, NASA may not be the first rocket to reach Mars. The not-for-profit foundation Mars One wants to colonise the planet, funding its mission by turning it into a reality TV show and selling off advertising space.

All photos: NASA

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