Orion’s Launch was MORE than a Test Flight

The Orion test launch on December 5, 2014. Called EFT-1 (for Exploration Test Flight 1). This image is used by permission of Tim Dodd of http://www.timdoddphotography.com/ and shows the launch framed through the remains of the Apollo mission test site.

The Orion test launch on December 5, 2014. Called EFT-1 (for Exploration Test Flight 1). This image is used by permission of Tim Dodd of http://www.timdoddphotography.com/ and shows the launch framed through the remains of the Apollo mission test site. (Click to enlarge.)

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.

It’s not.

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

The New Horizons wakeup image. Courtesy New Horizons mission.

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!

Catch the Action on an eBay Auction

to Benefit the National Space Society

The bid page for Uwingu’s auction to benefit National Space Society. Courtesy eBay.

Okay, now this one’s pretty amazing. There’s a huge and anonymous crater on maps of Mars that’s just crying out for a name. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Uwingu and eBay are partnering to auction off the right to name this big crater on Uwingu’s Mars Map, with National Space Society as a beneficiary.

The big crater on the auction block is about the same size as the state of Florida, and is located in the southern hemisphere on Mars. It’s available for bidding for the next 10 days, and the bidding gets started Friday evening. So, if you think you’d like to give a big crater name to somebody as a gift, here’s your chance. Sashay on over to eBay and check out the auction.

There are more than 14,000 craters named on the Uwingu Mars map, all coming from folks who have gone over to the site and made a small donation. If you’re interested in a smaller crater, there are still plenty of them left on the Uwingu map!

The National Space Society is a long-time grassroots educational nonprofit founded in the 1970s, and is dedicated to humans as a spacefaring civilization. Their leaders are influential in the national and international conversation about space travel and exploration. A number of luminaries are on their boards and their staff works directly with the public and chapters around the world to further the cause of space exploration. I’ve run across members at many space-related functions, and always am impressed with the vitality of the membership.

I’ve written about the Mars crater naming project before, but let me give a little background on it. Uwingu set it up as a chance for people to put place names on Mars craters on the maps that future Mars missions will be using as they land people on the Red Planet. It seems like an obvious project — to have place names set up in advance to facilitate communication between Earth and Mars, not to mention planning. Many craters have gone long unnamed, and the Uwingu people felt that it was time to change that, and to involve the public. The rationale behind that one is that people who have a personal investment in Mars or a future mission are much more likely to support and encourage such exploration. I can’t argue with that, and I actually jumped in and named some craters myself a while back. The money goes to a good cause, as Uwingu funds are always promised to do. Science education and research are always on the top of Uwingu’s menu of programs to help, and assisting scientists and educators is something we need a LOT more of in the world.

So, if you’re interested in checking out the auction, head over to the link ab0ve. It’s novel, it’s interesting, and the proceeds go to help a great society!