Orion is the next generation of spacecraft. It is due to replace the shuttle when it goes out of service in 2011. It looks very like the spacecraft used by the Apollo Missions but is packed full of the latest technologies.
They will be powered by a very powerful rocket called Ares. Two different types will be used (Ares I and Ares V). One will be used for journeys to and from the International Space Station. The second will be used by the next set of missions to the Moon and Mars. Each Orion spacecraft is expected to carry a crew of four to six astronauts. Orion will launch from the same launch area at the Kennedy Space Centre as the shuttle.
The first crewed Orion flight is anticipated in 2016. It is hoped that other private companies may begin flying to the ISS freeing the Orion Project to begin missions to the Moon and hopefully even Mars.
Earlier this year the US government almost pulled all funding from the project but as of October 2010 the project is still going ahead.
The eventual goal is to achieve a lunar landing by 2020. The new spacecraft is much larger than the Apollo Lunar Module and will be able to carry enough equipment to allow a small base to be built on the Moon. The Orion Lunar Module (also called Altair) will support a crew of four on the surface of the Moon for about a week and use advanced roving vehicles to explore the lunar surface. The extra size will also allow them to bring large amounts of scientific equipment to the lunar surface.
NASA hopes to follow this schedule in development of the Orion:
- 2014 — First unmanned flight of Orion in Earth orbit.
- 2015 — First manned flight of Orion in Earth orbit.
- 2015–2018 — First unmanned flight of Altair.
- 2016–2018 First manned flight of Altair.
- 2019 First manned lunar landing with Orion/Altair system.
- 2020 Review of Mars missions
- 2031 The Mission to Mars (this date is subject to change).
This animation will show you how the journey to the Moon will look.