Anyone who grew up in the shadow of the Apollo era will doubtless be almost apoplectic with excitement of what is hopefully to come over the next dacade. Whilst the USA is in a major transition phase with respect to its leadership, the new incumbent appears to have a commitment to take the United States back in to the realms of exploration.
A few years ago, the incredible teams at NASA and Lockheed Martin/ULA ran a 4 hour test of what promises to be that future of exploration. The Orion Spacecraft.
Called “Apollo on Steroids” the Orion crew module really is a pinnacle in engineering and spacecraft design. Taking the basic shape of the Apollo CM, and adding a larger crew capacity (enough to land 4 people on the Moon at a time now when combined with the new LM under development), and hopefully by the mid 2030s to land the first humans on the surface of Mars.
Whilst the Saturn V will probably remain as the unsurpassed champion of launch vehicles for some time to come, even when SLS goes to its full configuration, Orion really is pushing new boundaries in design, development and engineering, from an organisation that has a long and distinguished track record of building the ultimate flying machines.
The service module, we have already seen in a prototype/other form, with the European Space Agency ATV. We were fortunate enough to see this at close quarters during a docking at CNES Mission Control, and it too, is a work of pure brilliance, taking the SM from Apollo and giving it a 21st Century makeover.
EFT-1 the first Orion test flight, for many born after the Apollo era ended was their first real taste of what it must have been like to witness the launch and re-entry of something so special. Watching those incredible parachutes deploy above the spacecraft, prior to the splashdown of the largest and most robust heat shield ever designed, vastly more capable than anything that was on shuttle (having to withstand re-entry velocities way higher from deep space) sent goosebumps down the spines of most spaceflight fans.
Having developed the Orion to be fully upgradeable when new avionics and systems come online, Lockheed have provided a vehicle that should have a huge lifespan, and be capable of taking humans back to the Moon, on to Martian Moons and the surface, hopefully with ease. The only caveat as ever being budgetary.
It’s easy to get excited about the future, but after seeing the EFT-1 flight, we at the space collective are genuinely optimistic that this is really finally happening, and we can only hope that the new president elect of the United States, takes it upon himself to truly “make America great again” in a way that would be more dramatic than any other way.
To the engineers at NASA and Lockheed, we salute you, for your brilliance. To the future astronauts who will fly this magnificent spacecraft, godspeed..