Museum Hosts Viewing Event for Test Flight of NASA’s Orion Spacecraft

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December 5 Update: Watch the Orion spacecraft today, Friday December 5 at 10:30 am in the Cullman Hall of the Universe.

NASA’s new spacecraft Orion, which is designed to eventually take humans to an asteroid and Mars, will undergo its inaugural test flight on Thursday, December 4. Visitors to the Museum can watch along with Curator Denton Ebel as Orion re-enters Earth’s atmosphere and splashes down into the Pacific Ocean.

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

The un-crewed 4.5-hour flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1, is expected to begin around 7 am EDT from Cape Canaveral, Florida, if conditions are right. Orion will orbit Earth twice, covering more than 60,000 miles and reaching an altitude of 3,600 miles on the second orbit—15 times farther than the orbit of the International Space Station. The spacecraft will return through Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 miles per hour, which will generate temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on Orion’s heat shield. Those temperatures—about 80 percent as hot as Orion would experience returning from lunar orbit—will provide an extremely challenging test.

The flight test will also validate systems such as Orion’s parachutes, avionics, and altitude control, and demonstrate major separation events. Although these systems have been tested extensively on the ground, the space environment cannot be replicated completely on Earth. The flight test will provide critical data that will enable engineers to improve Orion’s design and reduce risk for the deep space astronauts it will carry beyond Earth’s orbit in the future.

The Museum’s viewing event, which will feature the livestream from NASA TV and Q&A with Dr. Ebel and NASA Solar System Ambassadors, starts at 10:30 am in the Cullman Hall of the Universe. The event is free with Museum admission.