Orion used a blast from the past to get us into the future of space exploration. No stirring tanks, bangs or shimmies reported on this near-perfect mission. The Orion test flight for NASA represented our first trip out of low-Earth orbit since the Apollo missions. Yeah, that shocked me too.

It also gets me excited. Look around your neighborhood or classroom. You could be staring at this generation’s explorer. Orion is all about getting America back into space and towards Mars. Sign me up. Ignore the fact I hate heights and won’t even get on a roller coaster. I can deal with it.

NASA’s deep-space capsule went through its first big test on Friday, surviving a ‘trial by fire’ on re-entry – enduring temperatures that hit 4000 degrees. For a real-world comparison, that’s twice the heat of molten lava.

Rob Navias, spokesman for NASA, announced the news to the world. “There is your new spacecraft, America. … Orion is back on Earth. America has driven a golden spike as it crosses a bridge into the future.”

Look at what the space agency does with the barest of funding. We bail out Wall Street to no avail, yet NASA trudges through budgetary hell and still puts out a fantastic product.

Orion Mission Roadmap

In the 2020s, the Orion capsule will be landing astronauts on near-Earth asteroids. Welcome to a new age of mining. By the 2030s, we are going to Mars. We just think the rovers are amazing. Wait until we have someone going for a walk on the red planet.

The mission wasn’t without a few glitches. A video processing unit reset itself, possibly due to radiation. Two of the five airbags didn’t deploy on landing, though three were more than enough to keep it floating upright.

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“We’ll learn just an enormous amount from what we did today, and when we get all that data back, that will be a big deal for us,” said Mike Hawes, Orion project manager for prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Orion Tests

The next test will be in 2018, and will involve sending an uncrewed capsule around the Moon. Exploration Mission 1 will involve NASA’s SLS (space launch system) rocket that is under development.

In 2021, the first manned missions will start, with the first sending astronauts around the Moon and back home. Talk about an amazing ride for that crew. It will be the first time since the Apollo missions NASA has approached the Moon.

Designs for Mars landers and habitats have not been settled on, but NASA is confident both will be in place well before 2030. It is a government agency after-all. If it happened quick, you should be scared.

Still, it is great to see NASA back in the news and inspiring millions. That’s what they did during Apollo, and Orion is setting its sights on this generation and beyond.

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