NASA unveiled its first Orion crew model today, designed to take astronauts into space and the eventual goal to take them to Mars as well. Arriving at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last Friday, the passenger module is still set to undergo quite a bit of development before an initial flight scheduled for 2014.
Although being able to carry four crew members into space, the first two flights by Orion will be unmanned. Once development has been completed, it will be the most advanced piece of spacecraft we've ever seen. The first flight scheduled for spring 2014 will be a test for the module’s heat shield, parachutes and other components.
During the unmanned test flight, Orion will reach orbit at a height of over 3,600 miles and circle the Earth twice. To put that into perspective, that’s more than 15 times higher than the International Space Station. Once completed, the Orion will return back to Earth traveling at over 20,000 mph before eventually dropping into the Pacific ocean off the U.S. coast.
NASA has set a target for a manned Orion mission in 2021.