NASA's first true deep-space ship moved one step closer to flight last week when the new capsule was powered up for the first time.
The space agency announced Monday that the first new Orion capsule, which is being built at Kennedy Space Center, had its new avionics system installed and turned on for the first time. Preliminary data shows the vehicle management computer performed as expected, NASA said.
The avionics systems will be only one of many components put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1, expected to launch in the fall of next year.
Photos show the craft is still very much under construction. But it's a sign of progress at a space center that hasn't seen a manned space flight since Atlantis closed out the space shuttle program more than two years ago.
While the EFT-1 test flight will be unmanned, NASA plans to eventually use Orion capsules to take astronauts beyond the international space station and even past the moon for the first time.
"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said Dan Dumbacher, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. "The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step."
"It's been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," added Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."
When completed, this Orion spacecraft will be launched on a Delta IV-Heavy rocket for EFT-1. But NASA is also developing a monstrous new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power those later missions into deep space, perhaps as soon as 2017.