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A look at the Orion Space Craft: Nearly Complete

Jun 12, 2014 12:02 PM EDT
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NASA's Orion spacecraft is due for its first test flight in just six months. In its final stages of assembly, the craft already looks remarkably unique.

Mark Geyer, NASA's Orion Program manager, said in a statement Tuesday that the craft looks nearly complete, with engineers just now beginning the final stages of configuring the crew module, service module and launch abort system.

"Now that we're getting so close to launch, the spacecraft completion work is visible every day," Geyer said.

The craft as a whole reflects the common "gumdrop" design of crew and cargo capsules that have been topping rockets since the early days of NASA's manned programs.

Even Space X's Dragon V2 - the private company's manned capsule that was unveiled late last month - has a gumdrop design, letting it easily deploy from the top of Falcon 9 rocket ships and just as easily reenter an atmosphere at breakneck speeds.

However, the Orion capsule is much wider than the Dragon V2, providing room for resources important in deep space missions. Currently, it is also remarkably reflective, looking like it is made of a single clump of silvery liquid metal.

According to NASA, despite its seeming solidarity, the craft is not one piece. The crew module of the craft was stacked on top of the service module on Monday, with engineers now working to make the appropriate connections and conduct testing of radio and electronic equipment.

The launch abort system, the third and final peace of this puzzle, will be added in the coming months, and constitutes the craft's final preparations for its first test flight around Earth.

During this unmanned first test, the craft will orbit around the Earth twice before plummeting back through Earth's atmosphere at nearly 20,000 miles per hour, landing in the Pacific Ocean.

"Orion's flight test will provide us with important data that will help us test out systems and further refine the design so we can safely send humans far into the solar system to uncover new scientific discoveries on future missions," Geyer said.

The completed Orion craft will finally be exiting the Earth's atmosphere for its first test in half a year's time.

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