CAPE CANAVERAL: NASA is launching its boldest test flight in decades this week. NASA’s newest deep space capsule Orion will head off on Thursday to reach a distance of 3,600 miles from Earth—the farthest space mission with a craft designed to accommodate humans since the final Apollo 17 trip to the moon in 1972.
Orion is wrapped in protective panels before being moved to the launch pad on November 10. Wind gusts and sluggish fuel valves conspired to keep NASA’s new Orion aircraft delaying a crucial test flight meant to revitalize human exploration.Orion will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, the largest rocket available. NASA is building its own launch system for Orion.
Though Orion’s first flight won’t have people on it, it won’t go up empty. It will carry up the names of more then half million people packed on a dime-sized microchip.
Also going up — an oxygen hose from an Apollo 11 spacesuit and a small sample of lunar soil. A Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil from the Denver Science Museum will be on board and lockers filled with flags, coins, patches, poetry and music.
The initial flight will be conducted with a Delta IV rocket built by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin. Future Orion missions will be powered by the Space Launch System, the largest rocket in NASA history. It is scheduled to fly an Orion mission in 2018.