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Orion: The novel spaceship that will fly astronauts to Moon

NASA and Department of Defense personnel familiarise themselves with a Navy-built, 18,000-pound Orion mock-up in a test pool. Image Credit: NASA

Orion – the new NASA spacecraft – is specifically being designed to carry astronauts to the Moon.

The spacecraft will be like NASA's Apollo capsule which was used for taking astronauts to the Moon years ago. The shape of the Orion which resembles Apollo capsule, will be more than twice the size of Apollo.

The Orion capsule will be able to take up to six astronauts to the International Space Station. The spacecraft will carry up to four astronauts to the Moon. It will also have room for supplies. Orion will be launched on an Ares I rocket which will put it in Earth’s orbit.

Once there, Orion can dock with the space station. Earth’s orbit could also be the first step for a lunar mission. Solar panels will help Orion stay in orbit for months. A heat shield will keep the crew safe as Orion passes through Earth's atmosphere. Parachutes will help the capsule and crew land safely in water on Earth.

The Ares I rocket will deliver Orion to Earth's orbit. From there, a second rocket will help with the trip to the Moon.

For Moon missions, an Ares V (5) rocket will be launched first. It will carry the Altair moon lander. An Ares I will launch the Orion to Earth’s orbit. Orion will then connect with the Altair. The top stage of the Ares V (5) will push the two vehicles out of Earth’s orbit. They will go to the Moon and orbit it. Then the astronauts will land on the Moon in Altair. Orion will orbit around the Moon with no one aboard. At the end of the mission, Altair will take off from the Moon and connect with Orion. Orion will then return the crew safely to Earth.

The first flight of Orion to the ISS is planned by 2015. Its first Moon flight is expected to take place by 2020. Plans are afoot to make the spacecraft fly to Mars as well. -- Courtesy: NASA

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