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News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Why Orion won't be America's next spaceship (and this one will)

• Belfiore

Exploration Flight Test 1, or EFT-1 , sent what amounted to a mockup—or engineering test article, if you prefer—of its planned Orion manned spacecraft into a 3,600-mile orbit before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean a few hours later.

But as I wrote in my story about the mission for Popular Mechanics, the spacecraft had no life support or other systems designed for humans on board, and since the rocket meant to send Orion into deep space isn't ready yet, it had to fly on a Delta IV satellite launcher acting as a stand in.

What's more, those essential added systems won't be able to fly until at least 2018, when NASA's budget will allow this very expensive program to launch another mission. (In my PopMech story, I reported 2017, but the date has since been pushed out to the next year).

The next mission won't have people on board either. That will have to wait until at least 2021, when NASA can mount another mission.

And because of the high development costs and NASA's relatively static budget, there's no funding for any additional hardware to support a mission as ambitious as going to Mars. The best that can be hoped for is to send Orion's planned four-person crew in an Apollo-8 style loop around the back side of the moon on its first manned mission. From there, there's talk of sending a crew on an asteroid rendezvous mission, but that's really more of a dream than a plan.

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