On Thursday morning, NASA plans to launch Orion capsule into space. Though unmanned, the spacecraft is designed as a test for future human flight to Mars, which is a big deal (a BFD deal, in the words of NASA administrator Charles Borden) for NASA and probably for human-kind.
NASA is pulling out all the stops for the test flight, which cost a cool $370 million. (All the stops):
Mars One, the group planning to start a colony on the red planet, is also psyched:
The launch is scheduled for 7:05 AM EST, weather permitting. Here’s what you need to know.
Orion spacecrafts will carry people to asteroids and Mars, soon
NASA calls Orion “America’s next generation spacecraft.” It is designed to carry a crew of four in and out of deep space, and is equipped with an “emergency abort capability,” to be used during botched launches.
If all goes well, NASA will use Orion to take astronauts around the moon in 2021, to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s.
The test-flight will be short
NASA is allowing two hours and 39 minutes for launch, and four and a half hours for flight. Exploration Mission one will take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and orbit Earth twice before returning.
The mission will be testing for safety
NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz describes the test as “a compilation of the riskiest events we’ll see when we fly astronauts in Orion… the test will stress systems critical for safety.” These include Orion’s heat shield (the world’s largest) and parachutes and other features.
… But that doesn’t mean it’s without risk
Tech Times points out that those tasked with recovering the Orion when it lands in the Pacific Ocean have a dangerous job. “The environment in the open ocean is a hazardous environment in and of itself,” said recovery director Jeremey Graeber, adding “Nominally, the vehicle coming down should not pose any threats to the recovery forces, but it's a test flight, so there are systems that we are not 100 percent sure we know what position they're in once we're splashed down."
There’s also economic risk involved — if there are problems with the expensive test flight, NASA’s Mars-bound plans could be derailed.
You can start watching NASA talk about the launch at 4:30 AM
Unless the weather doesn’t cooperate
Right now, there’s a 70 percent chance that weather won’t get in the way of NASA’s plans. So we’ll keep 30 percent of your fingers crossed for good weather and a successful launch tomorrow.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.