Orion’s Launch was MORE than a Test Flight
I don’t know about all of you, but watching the Orion test flight last week was (for me) like a blast to the past, even as it blasted NASA and its contractors into the future. I remembered watching similar kinds of launches for the Apollo missions. After years of watching shuttles go ripping off the launch pad, seeing the Orion boosters gracefully lumber off the pad was somewhat disconcerting. I forgot that launches could be that slow!
There’s a lot of commentary on the Web, in Facebook groups and discussion forums about the utility of this mission, and indeed of this design. As we’re still at the testing stages, it’s entirely possible that some things will change before this hardware is in frequent use for missions beyond Earth. One thing that media commentary didn’t get very accurate (and this carried out into the buzzy discussions I saw) was the idea that what we saw lift off the pad is NASA’s ultimate Mars mission.
Something like this will ultimately get humans going to Mars, but there’s much more work to be done on mission hardware for such a long-term trip. Also, I often wonder when we will take the obvious intermediate step and use this (or something like it) to get to the Moon more frequently. As it says on NASA’s Orion page: “Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.”
Nowhere in there does it mention missions to Mars. It talks about taking us farther than we have gone before.
Now, of course, as a Mars mission fan, I hope this WILL get used to take humans to Mars, to asteroids, to wherever we need to go. This is a big first step to other places beyond Earth. First step. Not the ONLY step.
New Horizons Wakes Up, Calls Home
Speaking of other steps, I am pleased that New Horizons is fully functional and talking to her team back here on Earth. After the successful wake-up call late Saturday, the spacecraft powered its systems and instruments back to full operational condition and is now talking regularly. Soon (very soon!) it will begin taking data on the inbound leg of its flyby of Pluto, only eight months from now!
As I write this, the spacecraft is just about 32 astronomical units from Earth, moving at a speed (with respect to the Sun) of 58,536 kilometers per hour (that’s 36,373 miles per hour). It is currently the fastest-moving spacecraft ever to leave Earth, thanks to a gravity assist it received from the planet Jupiter in 2007.
Things are going to get very exciting very fast with this mission, so keep an eye on the New Horizons web site for updates and images. I can’t wait to see what it finds at Pluto!