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NASA’s Orion – Flight to the Future

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NASA has named its new spacecraft ‘Orion’ quite aptly. The Greek name Orion means ‘rising in the sky’. NASA’s next generation spacecraft Orion, is built to rise in the sky, to carry humans into the deep space and eventually to Mars. NASA is planning to launch a test flight on December 5, 2014, which is today! The test flight is named Exploration Flight Test – 1.

Orion Exploration Flight Test – 1 is an unmanned mission. Orion will orbit around Earth twice. It will rise 15 times higher than where the International Space station is currently placed. Returning to Earth from such great heights is also going to be very challenging. The spacecraft will gain speed up to 20,000 miles per hour while entering Earth, but needs to slow down to 20 miles per hour for its safe landing in the Pacific ocean. That is quite difference in speed, isn’t? Speed slow down will be achieved through a series of enormous parachutes opening up one after the other. The temperature outside the craft at such immense speed is going to be 2200 degrees Celsius!! ( We all complain of heat when it’s 50 degrees). Maintaining a comfortable temperature for astronauts inside the craft is going to be very tricky!

The radiation environment of deep space is also very different from that at Earth’s surface or at a low orbit(where ISS is). It is extremely hazardous. Therefore, in no scenario, any radiation from outside the craft should seep in.

The exploration flight is suppose to check the accuracy of all the systems in the flight. It will also collect new data which will  influence the final design of the craft that will carry astronauts. Such a test flight is necessary to reduce mission risks.

Look at an interesting video “Trial by fire” launched by NASA:

When humans first landed on the moon, it was very famously said that “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The launching of Orion into space by NASA is surely the first step towards “the next giant leap.”

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