Saturday science subject: Mission to the moon

Popular Mechanics has put together an interesting article that looks at Orion, the spacecraft that will eventually be used for NASA's next manned mission to the Moon. The article explains some of the design choices behind Orion and gives an idea of how the spacecraft will be put together and how it will work, from takeoff to landing.
Scott Horowitz, NASA's associate administrator for Exploration Systems, defends the agency's approach. "Sure, we'd love to have antimatter warp drive," he says. "But I suspect that would be kind of expensive. Unfortunately, we just don't have the money for huge technological breakthroughs. We've got to do the best we can within our constraints of performance, cost and schedule."

The result, as NASA boss Michael Griffin puts it, is "Apollo on steroids" — a new-and-improved version of what was, as even critics must acknowledge, mankind's greatest technological feat. Recently dubbed Orion, the CEV will share Apollo's conical form, but be one and a half times as wide (16.5 ft.) and have more than double the habitable internal volume (361 cu. ft.)­, allowing it to carry six astronauts to the space station and four to the moon.

Blueprints for Orion will be frozen in July 2009, and the vehicle's first manned flight (to the International Space Station) is set to take place no later than 2014. Its first mission to the moon will take place no later than 2020, according to NASA's latest plans. (Thanks to TR regular DrDillyBar for suggesting this week's science topic!)
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