Jack Taylor/Photo Editor
On Dec. 5, 2014 the United States took its first major step toward deep space exploration. NASA’s Orion space capsule is nearly ready to carry U.S. astronauts into space. Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) was NASA’s mission to test the major systems of the vehicle. Of these systems, the most important are the new heat shields that are the largest ever built. During re-entry the spacecraft will enter the atmosphere at 20,000mph causing the heat shield to reach temperatures upwards of 4000 degrees Fahrenheit. If the crews piloting future missions are going to return safely, the heat shield must be in perfect condition.
NASA has steadily increased its manned capsules in crew capacity with every new generation. The Orion capsule can carry the most crew of any high orbit spacecraft with a capacity of 4 astronauts.
Along with the increased crew capacity is a major increase in range. Orion is designed to send astronauts further into space to new destinations such as interplanetary asteroids and Mars. Although EFT-1 was only a test mission, Orion flew to an orbit of 3,600 miles, which is roughly fifteen times higher than the orbit of the International Space Station.
Orion lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:05a.m on the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle. The Delta IV Heavy is currently the most powerful operating rocket in the world with 2.1 million pounds of thrust. The next Orion launch will be made on NASA’s new rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS). The next launch, EM-1, is slated to take place in 2018. This test will also be unmanned but will be the final check flight before the first manned Orion mission.