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Are We There Yet? Podcast

Building A Deep Space Capsule

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Orion ground test vehicle sits on a work stand in the Operations and Checkout O&C Facility. Photo: NASA

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If we’re going to go to Mars, we’re going to need a new spacecraft. That’s what NASA’s Orion capsule is for.

It looks like the capsules of the Apollo days. Engineers say the capsule’s shape is perfect for deep space exploration and re-entry into the atmosphere. But it’s a bit bigger than the Apollo command module. It was originally designed to hold six astronauts.

Engineers are borrowing what they learned from the shuttle program, too. Decades of space exploration are coming together for this crew capsule.

In 2014, NASA launched an Orion into a high orbit around the Earth to test the capsule’s structure and heat shield. They called that test flight EFT-1, and by all accounts the mission was a success.

Their sights are now set on Exploration Mission One, or EM-1, an unpiloted mission set for 2018 that will send the Orion capsule into space, past the moon and back.

So what goes into designing the next big thing in space exploration? And how are engineers preparing for the next test flight?

Orion Engineer Stu McClug gave me a call from his office in Houston to bring me up to speed on Orion and the new rocket they’re designing to blast it into deep space.

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Intersection' Producer

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts "Are We There Yet?", WMFE's space exploration podcast He also helps produce WMFE's twice-weekly public affairs show "Intersection," working with host Matthew Peddie to shape the ... Read Full Bio »