NASA showcased its space-bound Orion capsule during a ceremony at Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this morning.
With its first test flight slated for 2014, Orion is expected to be the most advanced spacecraft ever designed - offering emergency abort capabilities, sustaining astronauts during space travel and providing safe re-entry from deep space.
The 2014 uncrewed flight, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, will be lifted into orbit via a Delta IV-Heavy rocket from United Launch Alliance. Its second stage will remain attached to the capsule and subsequently fired to raise the Orion's orbit to 3,600 miles, approximately 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS).
The mission is planned to last only a few hours, long enough to make two orbits before being sent plunging back into the atmosphere to test it as deep-space reentry speeds. Subsequent Orion spacecraft will take astronauts on missions to destinations far beyond Earth, like an asteroid and Mars.
Designed with astronauts in mind, Orion has been tapped to take crews beyond Earth orbit for the first time since 1972, when Apollo 17 completed the last moon landing. The Space Launch System, or SLS - a gigantic rocket akin to the Saturn V that launched the Apollo spacecraft - is being developed to launch future Orion missions to deep space.
The first SLS mission, Exploration Mission 1, in 2017 will launch an uncrewed Orion to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the SLS rocket and spacecraft prior to a crewed flight. The second SLS mission, Exploration Mission 2, is targeted for 2021 and will launch Orion and a crew of up to four American astronauts.