Be still my heart! NASA has completed the assembly of the Orion capsule stack, prior to installing it on its rocket on the launchpad.
I remain decidedly unexcited by this upcoming test flight, which will send Orion up to 3,600 miles and then bring it back to Earth at about 20,000 miles per hour to test the spacecraft’s heat shield.
For example, the exaggerations and overstatements in this one short article tell you a great deal about how oversold the SLS/Orion program is.
First, the article makes this ridiculous claim:
Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.
Orion is totally incapable of doing this. It is far too small to send crews on multi-month-long missions. There isn’t space inside for crews to do the necessary exercises to keep their bodies healthy in weightlessness. Nor is there space for each crew person to have a room for privacy. In fact, the capsule by itself does not have the capacity to carry the required supplies for such deep missions.
In truth, Orion is really nothing more than the descent capsule that someone might someday consider attaching to a much larger interplanetary vessel. And it was built for a lot more money than necessary.
The article also brags about the wonders of the SLS launch abort system, even though on this particular test flight the attached system is merely a dummy that will only test the system’s ability to separate from the capsule. It will not be able to bring the spacecraft safely back to Earth should something go wrong.
Finally, this test flight will not even simulate what returning from the Moon is actually like. On such a flight, speeds generally exceed 25,000 miles per hour.
While this test flight will without doubt provide engineers good data for future work, it’s primary purpose is to sell SLS/Orion to Congress. Got to keep that pork flowing, y’know!
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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