So What Is NASA Planning To Do With Orion?

Now that a prototype of a crew capsule has been built and is ready for testing, it's still not clear how the US' next manned spacecraft will be used.

What's the Latest Development?

After nearly 10 years in development, Lockheed Martin engineers have successfully built a working prototype of the Orion crew capsule, which was intended to replace the space shuttle for manned missions beyond Earth's orbit. Now that it's about to go into an extended testing period, Josh Hopkins -- whose job title is "Space Exploration Architect" -- has many challenges ahead, not the least of which is this: Once this thing is built, where exactly is it going to go?

What's the Big Idea?

Owing to a number of different factors, NASA's goals for the new spacecraft aren't very clear. There are people that want to go back to the moon -- Orion's original destination -- and then there are folks who want to explore an asteroid. Hopkins is thinking a little further afield: "What you might do for the first Mars missions is have the astronauts orbit Mars and land on one of its tiny moons – Phobos or Deimos – and from there they can control rovers on the Martian surface." Furthermore, given that Phobos has very little in the way of a gravitational field, it would be relatively simple for the craft to land and take off. Fortunately, says Hopkins, the different possibilities allow the team to design Orion for flexibility.

Photo Credit: NASA

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