How the Orion spacecraft works
By Marshall Brain
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | (MCT) Imagine that you want to become an astronaut and fly to the moon. The biggest question that you might have is, "How am I going to get there?" If you are flying for the United States, the answer is simple. You will be flying in the Orion spacecraft.
The Orion spacecraft is being designed for NASA as a safe way to take you to the moon and back. Eventually, Orion will help with a mission to Mars as well. Orion can also help with flights to the International Space Station once the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. To handle all of these different missions, the Orion system comes in a couple of different flavors. Let's look at all the parts that will take you to the moon.
The Orion spacecraft itself has three main parts. First there is the crew capsule. It is shaped like a big cone, and at the biggest part of the cone it is five meters (16.5 feet) in diameter. For comparison, a typical minivan is about 16 feet long and 6 feet wide. So if you imagine two minivans parked side by side with several feet of space between them, that is how big the base of this cone is.
For a moon mission, the crew capsule holds four people for a couple of weeks. There are about 400 cubic feet of space inside the cone for people, which is about the same amount of space inside two minivans. Unlike most minivans, the crew capsule has a small toilet area and a place to store and prepare food. There's also lots of computers and a cockpit area to control the spaceship.
On the bottom of the crew capsule's cone there is a circular heat shield. When the capsule comes back from the moon, the heat shield keeps the crew capsule from burning up during re-entry into the atmosphere.
On top of the crew capsule is an escape tower. It is a special set of rocket engines that can pull the crew capsule away from the rocket if anything goes wrong during the launch.
Attached to the bottom of the crew capsule, below the heat shield, is a big cylinder called the Service Module. It contains a rocket engine and its fuels, solar panels and fuel cells to make electricity, and thrusters to steer the spacecraft.
For launch, the crew capsule and service sit atop an Aries 1 rocket. It has two stages. The first stage looks just like a solid rocket booster from the Space Shuttle, and the second stage uses one of the liquid fuel rockets from the Space Shuttle.
If you are an astronaut who is going to fly to the moon in the Orion spacecraft, here is what your mission would look like.
First, a rocket called the Cargo Launch Vehicle would take off. It carries your lunar lander and a big rocket engine attached to the lunar lander called the Earth departure stage.
Once the lunar lander is in orbit, you and three other astronauts suit up. The four of you would get into the Orion spacecraft, go through the count down and launch into earth orbit.
Once in orbit, your spacecraft would dock with the lunar lander. The Earth departure stage attached to the lander would fire and push you toward the moon. Once it is done, the Earth departure stage would drop off, leaving your Orion spacecraft and the lunar lander in an orbit around the moon.
You and your three friends would get into the lunar lander and land on the moon, leaving the Orion spacecraft orbiting the moon. When you are done with your mission, you would get back in the lunar lander and take off again, flying back to the Orion spacecraft. You would dock with the Orion, get back in it and drop the lunar lander.
Now you are ready for the return trip. Using the engine in Orion's service module, you would fly back into Earth orbit.
Finally you are ready to come home. You would disconnect from the service module to expose the heat shield and re-enter the earth's atmosphere. Parachutes would open as you get close to the ground. Then, either airbags would open or retro rockets would fire to let the crew capsule settle gently on land.
With luck, the first Orion spaceships could be flying as early as 2011. The hope is that United States astronauts will be working on the moon by 2020.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment by clicking here.
© 2007, How Stuff Works Inc. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.