posted at 21:50
Author Name: Kerry Sheridan
NASA counts down to Orions first step to Mars
The launch marks the first of a US spacecraft meant to carry people into deep space since the Apollo missions that brought men to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s. With no American vehicle to send humans to space since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, some at NASA said the Orion launch has re-energized the US space program, long constrained by government belt-tightening and forced to rely on costly rides aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit. "We haven't had this feeling in awhile, since the end of the shuttle program, launching an American spacecraft from America's soil and beginning something new," said Mike Sarafin, lead flight director at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The launch at 7:05 am from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aims to propel 1.63 million pounds of spacecraft, rocket and fuel straight to space, where the capsule will make two laps around the Earth before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The first orbit will be about as high as the International Space Station, which circles at an altitude of about 270 miles, but the second will soar 15 times higher, to an apogee of 3,600 miles above the Earth. The goal is both nebulous and costly, and NASA has already spent billions of dollars on Orion and the powerful rocket meant to propel it with crew on board, the Space Launch System. The first Orion test flight with people on board is scheduled for 2021, but with costs projected to reach $19-22 billion, space analyst Marco Caceres of the Teal Group in Virginia said it could be longer. "Radiation is one of the biggest challenges for us," NASA administrator Charles Bolden told an audience of NASA enthusiasts gathered at Kennedy Space Center for a social media event.

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