NASA plans to launch a flight test of Orion, the “deep space human exploration spacecraft,” Thursday from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 7:05 a.m. EST with its United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Orion’s potential adventure comes after Philae discovered organic molecules on a speeding comet last week.
Though Orion’s ultimate goal is to take astronauts to Mars, its first few missions will travel to an asteroid. To make sure the capsule is safe, it will fly without humans for its first trip into space Thursday. Orion can seat as many as four people.
"During its 4.5-hour trip, Orion will orbit Earth twice and travel to an altitude of 3,600 miles into space," NASA officials said in a statement, according to Space.com. "The flight is designed to test many of the elements that pose the greatest risk to astronauts and will provide critical data needed to improve Orion’s design and reduce risks to future mission crews."
The goal of the trial run, which is officially called, Exploration Flight Test-1, is to determine what the conditions would be like for astronauts inside Orion’s cabin. The capsule will endure severe temperatures and high radiation during the unmanned test Thursday while also examining other features on the capsule like how its heat shield performs and it will check if its 11 parachutes deploys properly.
— Orion Spacecraft (@NASA_Orion) December 1, 2014
Lockheed Martin, who built the capsule for NASA, posted a cheeky tweet about the capsule Sunday and asked what three people Twitter users would take to Mars if they were in Orion’s cabin.
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) November 30, 2014
Follow me on Twitter @mariamzzarella