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article imageNASA announces manned flight to Mars, begins testing Thursday

By William Suphan     Dec 3, 2014 in Technology
NASA has made a long-awaited announcement that it will send a manned flight to Mars. This Thursday, they will be launching an unmanned test capsule.
Landing a human on Mars has been a global goal since we landed on the Moon. NASA is now taking the first steps towards fulfilling that goal. This Thursday, NASA will launch an unmanned capsule in a test flight, aiming to reach 3,600 miles from earth. This would be the farthest distance ever achieved for a craft intended to contain human beings, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
The capsule has been named Orion, and it is hoped that this mission will generate public interest in space exploration. NASA wants to show that they have the technology.
NASA engineer Richard Boitnott, at the Langley Research Center, said, “My hope is that when we fly the capsule on Thursday, it will energize the public and energize that middle schooler [who] isn’t quite sure what he wants to do, but he likes math and science."
Due to trickling funding from Congress, it will likely be at least three years before the nest test flight and another three years for the first manned test mission. The final mission is tentatively slated for 2035. In the meantime, NASA needs to improve technologies to protect astronauts from radiation and the complications of a zero-gravity environment.
Thursday's test flight will see Orion carrying 1,200 sensors and will orbit earth twice. It will then land off the coast of San Diego, to be collected by the USS Anchorage.
The lead contractor for this mission is Lockheed Martin, and an important objective for Thursday's flight will be to test their thermal shielding, which is so far the largest ever developed. The final mission may generate temperatures up to 6000 degrees.
Also being tested is the launch-abort system, designed to operate between launch and 300,000 feet. If an emergency is detected, it will activate in milliseconds and is entirely computer operated.
This flight will utilize a Delta-IV rocket constructed by the United Launch Alliance, a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Future flights will employ the largest rocket system ever designed, known as the Space Launch System. It will be used with Orion in 2018.
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