Astronauts began training on the Orion spacecraft to prepare for an eventual trip bringing spacefarers to Mars. The test crew donned full spacesuits in order to fully test the vehicle and their own ability to interact with control systems while wearing their full gear.
The Orion spacecraft is designed to be NASA's next space delivery system, capable of lifting human payloads to orbit, and well beyond the Earth. This vehicle is the cornerstone of the American space agency's quest to send people to the red planet.
"Engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are evaluating how crews inside a mockup of the Orion spacecraft interact with the rotational hand controller and cursor control device while inside their Modified Advanced Crew Escape spacesuits. The controllers are used to operate Orion's displays and control system, which the crew will use to maneuver and interact with the spacecraft during missions to deep space destinations," NASA officials wrote on their website.
The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV) is designed to carry a crew of four astronauts to destinations beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO). The United States has not possessed a means of bringing people into space since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011. The last vehicle capable of bringing human occupants beyond LEO was the Saturn V, which was retired in 1973.
Mission planners at NASA are confident they will be able to safely land a human crew on the red planet in about 20 years. The vehicle has undergone a single test flight so far, in 2014, when an empty capsule completed two orbits of the Earth to test critical safety equipment.
"NASA's Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they've ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities," NASA officials report in an overview of the upcoming spacecraft.
The Orion spacecraft will launch on top of the upcoming Space Launch System (SLS) currently being designed and built by NASA. When complete, the SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever constructed, capable of placing humans on another world for the first time in history.