The Dawn of Orion: NASA Launches a New Era of Space Exploration

The Orion spacecraft has splashed down off the coast of Baja California after a successful test flight. NASA hopes to use Orion to send astronauts to the moon and Mars within 25 years.

Earlier today, just as the sun peeked through the Cape Canaveral morning glow, a 243-foot rocket carrying NASA's next great hope launched high into the stratosphere. The disembodied voice counting down to ignition provided these few words as the jet-fueled engines crescendoed: 


"And liftoff. At dawn. The dawn of Orion and a new era in American space exploration."

Four hours later, after a pair of Earth orbits and a 3,600-mile fall, Orion splashed down off the coast of Baja California. The mission was deemed a complete success, per USA Today's James Dean. One NASA official called it "the most perfect flight you could ever imagine."

We wrote about Orion yesterday when its initial launch got postponed due to a variety of minor complications. The quick and successful bounceback is a big victory for NASA. The space agency has been developing Orion as the spiritual successor to the Space Shuttle. Current plans call for the craft to shuttle astronauts to the moon and Mars within the next 25 years. A major goal for today's launch was to prove that Orion's key technological components are already in place. It appears both NASA and the craft came away today with straight A's.

Over the past several years we've had quite a few experts here on Big Think discuss the importance of space travel and exploration. Just last month we posted a video interview with Bill Nye on the Rosetta comet landing. While the ever-exuberant Science Guy cites the adventure and wonder of space exploration as key incentives to shoot for the stars, his biggest concern is that mankind has a better shot at long-term survival if we develop the capabilities to colonize other parts of the galaxy:

"There is no evidence at all that the ancient dinosaurs had a space program and it cost them."

In a similar vein, Neil deGrasse Tyson talked at length about the great benefits enjoyed by society that can be attributed to NASA and its employees. A fully funded space agency, says Tyson, will stimulate excitement and growth in the STEM fields and produce the next generation of great American scientists:

"You walk into an 8th grade classroom and the kids, not one of them will ever say to you, 'when I grow up, I want to be an NIH researcher or I want to be an NSF researcher.' They may, one day, be that. But those two agencies, as important is the science that they do, do not have a force. They don’t come along with a force that operates on the ambitions of students. NASA does."

     

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

         

         

       

     

       

What's your take on Orion? What will it take for you to become excited about a return trip to the moon or a groundbreaking journey to Mars? How do you feel about NASA with regard to the support it gets from Congress? Let us know down below in the comments.

Read more at USA Today

Photo credit: NASA

Amazon chooses New York and Virginia for its HQ2

The new offices will be built in New York's Long Island City and Viriginia's Arlington.

(Photo: INA FASSBENDER/AFP/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Amazon will receive more than $2 billion in incentives from the two states.
  • The company plans to create a total of 50,000 jobs at an average wage of $150,000.
  • The announcement has caused controversy, raising concerns about rising rent prices and potentially lost resources in communities surrounding the upcoming developments.
Keep reading Show less

This 5-minute neck scan can spot dementia 10 years before it emerges

The results come from a 15-year study that used ultrasound scans to track blood vessels in middle-aged adults starting in 2002.

Mikhail Kalinin via Wikipedia
Mind & Brain
  • The study measured the stiffness of blood vessels in middle-aged patients over time.
  • Stiff blood vessels can lead to the destruction of delicate blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive decline.
  • The scans could someday become a widely used tool to identify people at high risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's.
Keep reading Show less

Archaeologists unearth dozens of mummified cats in Egypt

Dozens of mummified cats were dug up this week. This isn't as shocking as you might think.

KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Culture & Religion
  • Archaeologists in Egypt have found dozens of mummified cats in the tomb of a royal offical.
  • The cats will join the ranks of hundreds of thousands of previously discovered ancient kitties.
  • While the cats are nothing special, the tomb also held well preserved beetles.
Keep reading Show less