The latest news from NASA is that the new Orion spaceship was successfully launched  in preparation for the first human trip to Mars. Just after 7am on 5th December, the spaceship left Cape Canaveral, Florida unmanned heading into the sky above. Although the mission only lasted 4 1/2 hours, Orion will fly a distance of over 3,600 miles.  This is farther than any spaceship has flown, made for humans, in decades.  It is the capsule that they hope will one day land on Mars. It orbited the earth two times, flying at 17,000 mph.  It then separated and entered back into the earth’s atmosphere, falling into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

The aim is to see how Orion copes with space travel.  It has been designed to carry six astronauts into deep space.  The heat shield and service module will be tested for durability once it has returned to earth. Orion will enter an area of intense radiation as it travels 15 times farther than the International Space Station.  NASA wanted to investigate how Orion copes with this radiation so that humans will not suffer danger on future missions.

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NASA will test the capabilities of Orion in temperatures of over 2,200 C as it reenters the atmosphere; the emergency abort function will have also been tested and more than 1,000 sensors will have been measuring details of the flight.

There are plans for a second unmanned flight in 2018 as well as a manned mission to travel around the moon in the 2020s.  The hopes are to send astronauts to an asteroid and Mars in the 2030s. Estimated at a cost of $375 million, the test flight carries a few items from our planet: a T-Rex fossil, artefacts from Sesame Street (Cookie Monster’s cookie and Grover’s cape), several Maya Angelou poems, and Gustav Hoist’s The Planets. It is NASA and PBS’s hope that their partnership will help encourage children to study space.

[Image via spaceflightinsider]

SOURCE: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/05/nasa-launches-orion-spacecraft-in-boost-for-mars-mission