(NEW YORK) — The Orion space capsule is expected one day to carry astronauts to Mars, but for now, NASA is busy getting the vessel ready for its first big exploration mission to the moon.
The conical-shaped Orion crew module pressure vessel arrived at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center this month from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. The pressure vessel is about 500 pounds lighter and has fewer parts than Orion had when it blasted off on its first test flight in December 2014, according to Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin Orion program manager.
NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers will now work to outfit the Orion pressure vessel with all the controls necessary for flight, including everything from electrical power storage and communications to flight software and computers.
After Orion has had some work done and becomes a fully functional spacecraft, NASA will put it through a series of tests at several of its facilities across the country.
When Orion has a stellar report card, the next step for the spacecraft will be a launch to circle the moon in 2018 and embark on its first crew mission around 2023.
If everything goes according to plan, Orion could ferry astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.
The capsule, which has a conical shape just like its moon shot-era predecessor, the Apollo, seats four astronauts. While the design may be similar, Orion is equipped with technology that is light-years ahead of the retired spacecraft.
Orion’s computer can process 480 million instructions per second. It’s also 25 times faster than the computers at the International Space Station, according to NASA.
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