Another small step: Nasa unveils Orion capsule bound to take astronauts to Mars
By Daily Mail Reporter
10:06, 12 July 2012 | UPDATED:
13:56, 12 July 2012It may look a little underwhelming but this little craft's lofty goal is to take astronauts out of an Earth orbit for the first time since the 1970s - and possibly land man on Mars.
In front of more than 450 guests and dignitaries, Nasa officially unveiled the Orion crew capsule at a 'welcoming ceremony' at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Despite funding and planning cuts at the space agency, the capsule is part of a concerted effort to kickstart a new era in deep space exploration by humans.
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Pressure shell: Nasa's new Orion spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center. In the next 18 months the shell will be packed with avionics, instrumentation an flight computers
Taking shape: The Orion, which mimics the classic conical shape of the Apollo mission crew capsules, is one of the most advanced craft ever built
This capsule is not a mock-up or scale model but a working piece of space kit that is bound for an unmanned test flight in 2014.
It will be shot into orbit atop a Delta 4 rocket, speeding around the Earth 3,600 miles above the surface - which is about 15 times further out than the current International Space Station orbit.
After two full orbits, the capsule will re-enter the atmosphere at more than 20,000mph to test the craft and its heat shield.
Lori Garver, Nasa's deputy administrator, told the assembled crowd: 'This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation’s great space exploration story.'
Close quarters: There's little room to move inside the capsule, seen here in a full-size mock-up, but they will be seen as the best seats in the universe for Nasa crew hoping to be the first to Mars
Over the next 18 months, engineers and technicians at the space centre will install avionics, instrumentation, flight computers and the heat shield– slowly building and filling up the pressure shell into a fully functioning spacecraft.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, of Florida, was instrumental in getting congressional funding for Nasa to build the capsule - officially titled the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).
More money is earmarked for the launch vehicle, a Space Launch System (SLS) booster rocket similar in size and design to the Saturn V rockets of the Apollo missions.
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