On December 4, NASA will take its next generation deep space capsule Orion for a test spin. This is the first test in an ambitious plan to eventually send the Orion spacecraft into deep space, culminating with humans landing on Mars within the next few decades.
However, the first flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle will be uncrewed. The planned mission—which should take about four hours, starting at 7:05 a.m. EST—will see Orion orbit the Earth twice, hitting the Van Allen radiation belts and attaining a maximum altitude of about 3,600 miles. Orion will be lifted by a massive Delta IV Heavy Rocket, though future missions would have it paired with a Space Launch System rocket.
The plan is for Orion to eventually carry up to six astronauts to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and eventually Mars. NASA’s “Journey to Mars” timeline projects sending a crewed mission to asteroids around 2021, with the intention of making it to the Red Planet by the 2030s.
But in the meantime, there’s an exciting launch to watch! Learn more about Orion’s specs, the mementos being sent up with it, and the program’s potential obstacles. You can also follow along on NASA’s site.
Image credit: NASA