September 12th, 2011
04:57 PM ET

Orion comes to life

NASA hasn't built a human-rated spacecraft since 1991, when Endeavour left the factory. But this week, workers at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans made the first weld on the first space-bound Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

This is a big deal. It's a major step towards accomplishing some of the ambitious exploration goals that President Obama and Congress have laid out for the United States. There are Orion MPCV mockups at Johnson Space Center in Houston, for training and design purposes, but this is the first one actually meant for more than earth-bound testing. This MPCV will fly in space.

Once the welding is complete, the capsule will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where its heat shield will be installed. It'll then get finishing touches and be checked out for spaceflight.

Orion is meant to replace the now-retired Space Shuttle program. It can carry a crew of up to six people and is meant for exploration beyond low-earth orbit. That is to say, it can go farther than the International Space Station. The MPCV will be launched atop a heavy-lift rocket (think Apollo) and return to earth blunt-end down to splash down in an ocean, instead of landing like an airplane.

For more on the MPCV, head on over to NASA's site.

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Filed under: In Space • News
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. SuffolkGuy

    Correction to this story. NASA hasn't started and completed a human-rated spacecraft since 1972 when the Shuttle contract was awarded. 40 years! NASA started then canceled several replacements. Lockheed's X-33, then 2nd Gen Reusable Launch Vehcile, Obital Space Plane, etc. I worked 2nd Gen RLV. Many of the NASA staff running SLI had never actually built anything. They were intelligent, dedicated, hard working, well-educated people but lacked the real world education that can only come from succesfully building something that works. One young manager repeatedly demanded that contractors deliver their Interface Control Documents (ICD) at the start of his task contract . An ICD defines, for one example, what data will be passed between a GPS and the onboard computer performing navigation functions. He had enormous difficulty accepting the fact that you first had to design the GPS and NAV system & their interaction before you could document in an ICD what data was exchanged between them. The ICD comes later, not at the start. Crazy. But you certainly don't tell your customer that what he wants is stupid even if you think it.

    September 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  2. Sokman

    Space travel at the speed of light is impossible... In theory. Which means it is not truley proven impossible, only improbable.

    September 16, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  3. debunker

    I've always been a big fan of the space program, but Orion really is a bone-headed waste of time and money conceived for no other purpose than to be a make-work project for the NASA bureaucracy. The privately-developed SpaceX Dragon is much further along in development and is a more flexible and economical design.... so why squander money on building an inferior government-funded competitor called Orion? Dragon has already flown in test, and SpaceX already has a contract to use it to deliver freight to the space station very soon. Look it up! As far as exploration beyond the moon, we are too heavily constrained by the limitations of conventional chemical propulsion. A breakthrough is needed... and with the Republicans salivating over the possibility of slashing funding for anything involving education or research and development... it seems that the Chinese are much more likely to make that breakthrough than we are.

    September 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  4. Belgarath

    This is good news! The real questions I want to know are: 1) where are with faster than light travel? 2) Can dark matter/energy be used to move us thru space at FTL speeds? 3) have they yet isolatged the boson (sp?) "gravity" particle?
    Einstein got us started yet now new discoveries have been announced. We have found numerous exoplanets yet no means to get there. This may not happen in my lifetime (I wish!) but are we making any progress for deep space travel?

    September 14, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • kake79

      1) Travelling faster than the speed of light is impossible.

      2) See #1

      3) No. Trust me when I say, if/when a physicist isolate the Higgs boson (a.k.a. The God Particle), you will know. The whole world will know because it would be very big, very important news.

      September 14, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
      • Gene Roddenberry

        Travelling faster than the speed of light is only impossible if you are talking about acceleration. It is quite probable to travel over great distances without moving in the traditional sense. It simply requires enough energy to warp the space around you.

        Beam me up Scotty.

        September 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  5. Nate

    good, this puts us one step closer to being able to escape if the earth is threatened.

    September 14, 2011 at 5:38 am |
    • HAHA

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.....
      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA....
      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHA!!!!

      September 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  6. ajd041

    I agree completely this should have been ready for when the shuttle was discontinued so there wouldn't be this huge gap where the russians can lead in space travel but oh well not much we can do now

    September 12, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • ThaGerm

      It couldn't be brought into service when the shuttle program was active because of cost issues associated with running parallel systems. Despite the Republican chatter about Obama "killing NASA"; NASA is alive and moving forward BECAUSE the shuttle program was terminated. The shuttle was awesome, but limited in what it could do for deep space travel. If we really want to get to Mars or further we had to kill the shuttle so that we move beyond it.

      September 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  7. diginaut

    It's not just America, but humans in general that need to get out into space, beyond Earth orbit, beyond the moon. I'd love to see Orion make the next big step, but it's just going to take so long. We never should have not have let it wait this long and as soon as the shuttle was retired, something needed to be there to step up and take over.

    September 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm |

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