The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis is now prepping for its final flight on June 28, the last ever in the space shuttle program. After this, the United States is earthbound, with no alternative way to reach its segment of the International Space Station (ISS), not to mention other potential destinations, like the moon.
But the upcoming Orion craft from Lockheed Martin looks like it's up to the task, and then some: Instead of the moon, Orion might be going to Mars.
Orion is a deep-space vehicle that has been designed as backup craft, in case of an emergency aboard the ISS. But Lockheed Martin has grander plans in mind. MSNBC writes:
Under the new plan, Orion vehicles would primarily serve as escape ships for space station crews, and they could play a role in future deep space exploration. Lockheed has seized upon the latter possibility, drawing up plans to send several linked-up Orion capsules to an asteroid -- a potential manned mission called "Plymouth Rock."
The aerospace firm has also developed several other scenarios, which it envisions leading eventually to a manned Mars mission with Orion. In addition to Plymouth Rock, the possibilities include a mission to the Lagrangian Point over the far side of the moon and a journey to the moons of Mars that would complement robotic missions on the Martian surface, officials said.
Of course, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) already has a docked Soyuz spacecraft on the ISS for emergencies. And Roscosmos won't have interruption of craft to the ISS, like NASA has. (And let's not forget of the triumph of Mir, the Russian space station that kept cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov on board for 437 days, as well as allowed Anatoly Solovyev to spend 82 hours on accumulated spacewalks.)
For a look at Roscosmos' step-by-step plans to own space by 2015, take a look at this.
Orion should begin flight-testing in 2013.
(via Huffington Post)