NASA's Orion program reached a major milestone on June 28, 2012, when the first space-bound Orion crew capsule arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Construction on the spacecraft was finished at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana this week, and final outfitting and heat shield installation will take place at KSC.
This spacecraft will fly on Exploration Flight Test-1, an unmanned test that is scheduled two years from now. The EFT-1 flight will take Orion to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles, more than 15 times farther away from Earth than the International Space Station. Orion will return home at a speed of 25,000 miles per hour, almost 5,000 miles per hour faster than any human spacecraft. It will mimic the return conditions that astronauts experience as they come home from voyages beyond low Earth orbit. As Orion reenters the atmosphere, it will endure temperatures up to 4,000 degrees F., higher than any human spacecraft since astronauts returned from the moon.
This first Orion will fly atop a Delta IV Heavy, a rocket operated by United Launch Alliance. While this launch vehicle will provide sufficient lift for the EFT-1 flight plan, NASA's SLS rocket will be needed for the vast distances of future exploration missions.
Following EFT-1, the first integrated flight test will launch an uncrewed Orion on the SLS in 2017. That test will put the entire integrated exploration system through its paces. The Orion spacecraft will have the capability to carry astronauts to the moon, asteroids, Mars and other deep space destinations.
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