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US unveils Orion spacecraft for Moon, Mars missions


A full-size mockup of the crew module for the Orion Crew exploration vehicle is displayed on the National Mall near the Capitol in Washington. Photo credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (BNS): NASA gave visitors to the National Mall in Washington a peek at a full-size mock-up of the Orion spacecraft. The spacecraft will carry the next generation of astronauts to the moon and beyond.

The U.S. Navy-built Orion crew exploration vehicle will replace the space shuttle NASA plans to retire in 2010, and become the foundation stone of the agency's Constellation Program to explore the moon, Mars and beyond.

"We're just very proud to build this, do some testing and demonstrate to America that we're moving beyond the space shuttle onto another generation of spacecraft," said Don Pearson, project manager for the Post-Landing Orion Recovery Test or PORT, as quoted by NASA.

NASA plans to use Orion to carry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2015. The capsule will rotate the crew at the station every six months "to work out the kinks" before heading to the moon and Mars, Pearson said.

Orion is named for a bright constellation that got its designation from a hunter in ancient Greek mythology. The design of Orion was based on the Apollo spacecraft, which first took Americans to the moon. Although similar in shape, Orion is larger, able to carry six crew members rather than three.

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