NASA Orion Spacecraft That Will Bring Humans to Mars Will Undergo Moon Test Mission in 2019

NASA is planning to take humans back to the Moon—something that has not been done since 1972. The new Orion spacecraft was built to explore the moon, Mars and beyond, but before taking humans on these exploratory missions, the new ship needs to be tested. NASA has now officially scheduled the date for Orion’s first human-less trip around the moon and back for 2019, a feat that will take humankind one giant leap closer (to quote a famous moon walker) to our mission to Mars.

The test trip, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will take the spacecraft in a lunar orbit around the moon, just a tiny bit further than the Apollo went when it touched down on the moon 48 years ago. At its peak, Orion will be 270,000 miles away from Earth, Space.com reported. Although spacecrafts not built to support a human crew have traveled further into space, this distance will be the furthest that a crew-capable ship has ever been. 

During EM-1, Orion will travel to the moon and back in about 26 days. This short trip includes four days to travel from Earth to the moon, a week in an elliptical orbit around the moon, and then another four days to return, NASA reports. The launch will take place at the Kennedy Space Station in Florida. After its time in space, Orion will land in the Pacific ocean near California where it will be picked up by a recovery ship.

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orion The Orion spacecraft will take us to the Moon and beyond. NASA

The Orion spacecraft is a feat of human engineering that will allow astronauts to accomplish their goals of exploring deep space. Once in space it will use solar panels on its sides to absorb energy from the sun and convert it into electricity.

Related: NASA's Orion test flight rescheduled for Friday

When Orion nears the vicinity of the moon, the craft will purposely slow down, which will allow it to be captured by the moon’s gravity. Orion will orbit the moon before making the trip back to earth. To return to earth, the craft will need to reach speeds up to 24,500 in order to break through the moon's atmosphere again.

The main goal of the unmanned journey, says NASA mission manager Mike Sarafin, is to “use the deep-space exploration system to prepare our team, our ship and our astronauts for human operations in deep space," reports Space.com.  Following this mission, Exploration Mission 2 will travel the same path, only with a human crew.

The 2019 mission is one of many upcoming space missions aimed at taking astronauts further into space. In the 2020s the craft will take astronauts to an asteroid, and in 2030 NASA hopes to finally accomplish its long sought-after goal of taking humans Mars.

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