Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Congratulations to NASA on Orion EFT-1 Mission Success

I'd like to congratulate NASA for a successful flight of the Orion capsule. The Delta IV Heavy launched from Cape Kennedy at 12:05 UTC on December 5th (4:05 Pacific Time/7:05 Eastern), did two orbits around the Earth, and then splashed down in the Pacific Ocean off of the coast of Baja California. On the second orbit, the capsule was boosted to 3700 miles above the Earth prior to re-entry to simulate a return from deep space. The Orion capsule's re-entry velocity was about 20,000 mph/32,000 kph. This is a bit higher than capsules returning from the ISS (with typical re-entry speeds in the 17,500 mph/28,000 kph range), and less than the speed of the Apollo spacecraft returning from the moon (24,750 mph/39,600 kph). The spacecraft splashed down about four hours after launch, and has since been recovered by the US Navy.

While this was a great demonstration flight, I don't agree with some NASA people who say this is our future spacecraft to Mars. If all goes well, and there are doubts that all will go well, Orion won't be flying again for at least the next two years. The next flight is scheduled for 2017, when it and the SpaceX crewed Dragon vehicle will hopefully start sending crews to ISS under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract. SpaceX, meanwhile, will be flying at least 10 more Dragon missions to ISS and space in general. So SpaceX will have quite a bit more experience with their craft before Orion flies again.

Also, it's important to keep in mind that Elon Musk himself is fixated or perhaps obsessed with going to Mars, and he is not dogged by temperamental congresses and their hot/cold space program funding cycles. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the astronauts on the first NASA Mars mission are welcomed to Mars by Elon and members of the SpaceX staff when they get arrive their.

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