Quick look: NASA Orion’s critical test mission

NASA will this week launch Orion, which is destined to fly humans to the moon, asteroids and Mars.

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The mission

Orion is the first spacecraft built for astronauts destined for deep space since the Apollo missions and ultimately it is destined for deep space travel -- but this week the spaceship went out for a short jaunt outside Earth. NASA says Orion’s unmanned test flight – slated for launch Thursday, is intended to test many of the riskiest elements of leaving Earth and returning home in the spacecraft including the jettison of the launch abort system; the separation of the Orion crew module from its service module ahead of its reentry though Earth’s atmosphere; the heat shield, which will experience temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and how Orion’s computers handle the radiation from the Van Allen Belt.

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REUTERS/Mike Brown (One-Time Use)

The capsule

The Orion capsule is moved at Kennedy Space Center in Florida Nov. 11, 2014. The NASA spacecraft designed to one day fly astronauts to Mars rolled out of its processing hangar at the U.S. space agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to be prepared for a December test flight.

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The rocket

The Orion spacecraft is seen atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Orion will travel 3,600 miles (5,794 kms) in altitude above Earth. The spacecraft will re-enter the atmosphere 4 1/2 hours later at 20,000 mph (32,187 kph) and splash down in the Pacific Ocean, according to NASA.

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REUTERS/Cory Huston/NASA (One-Time Use)

New safety system

The launch abort system for the Orion Flight Test is lowered by crane for installation on the Orion spacecraft inside the Launch Abort System Facility, or LASF, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

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More rocket

A view of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket in preparation for the first flight test of NASA's new Orion spacecraft at Cape Canaveral.

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The package

The Orion and Delta IV Heavy rocket stacked for launch.

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REUTERS/Ben Smegelsky (One-Time Use)


NASA image shows rocket boosters for Orion Spacecraft's first flight at the United Launch Alliance Horizontal Integration Facility in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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Inside out

The three panels or fairings encapsulating a stand-in for Orion’s service module successfully detach and fall into the Fairing Catch System.

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Heat hot

Technicians work on the heat shield of NASA's Orion space capsule at Kennedy Space Center. Measuring 16.5 feet in diameter, the heat shield is made from a single seamless piece of Avcoat ablator.

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REUTERS/Mike Blake (One-Time Use)

Test tube

A test version of NASA's Orion capsule is shown after being recovered by the USS Anchorage.

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REUTERS/Mike Brown (One-Time Use)

Hazardous duty

The Orion capsule sits on top of the service module as it is moved from the Operations & Checkout Building to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility.

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REUTERS/NASA/Handout (One-Time Use)

Test ready

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is shown in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

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Just jettison

This computer-generated art shows the launch abort system still attached and the jettison of the service module fairing panels.

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Artist's concept of Orion adjusting its attitude for re-entry.

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Watching the event

A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers.

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Paying tribute

An oxygen hose like those used by space-suited Apollo astronauts will soar into space aboard Orion during the first flight test. Orion also holding a tiny sample of lunar soil that will be used to inspire students toward science and engineering fields. A prehistoric fossil from a Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Denver Science Museum will make the flight as a reminder of how much life the Earth has seen during its existence. And a microchip with the names of more than a million people who submitted their names to be part of NASA’s exploration efforts will make the trip, as well.

Go to the video

Inside the capsule


Trial by fire

NASA’s new "Trial By Fire" video outlining the Orion mission.