Tomorrow is a huge milestone event for NASA, Lockheed Martin, everyone involved with the Orion space vehicle, and every rocket science fan. At 7:05AM Eastern time it will have a test launch from a pad in Florida. You can watch the live stream event (along with me) here:
They have already activated the live stream as i write this blog post, showing work in progress.
There is a lot of discussion or commentary that can be said about this program and event. One thing I’ll mention here is that the time scales for aerospace projects tend to be very long. The Orion contract was announced by NASA on August 31, 2006. Here we are more than 8 years later, ready for the first flight–although a test flight, not an operational one.
The time, expense, and manpower required to plan and execute these large aerospace projects are a constant source of discussion, debate, and consternation among stakeholders. Then sometimes we find people with the determination, skills, or passion to bust one of these paradigms. Or if they have all three of those attributes, they just might bust more than one! You are probably already thinking of people like Elon Musk and the Space-X team. As a point of comparison, that company was founded in June 2002. On September 28, 2008, it became the first private company to put it’s own liquid-fueled rocket into Earth’s orbit. That took just over 6 years. Very impressive and remarkable considering they went from zero to orbit in that amount of time.
Back to Orion–while this is also a spacecraft, like the Space-X Falcon 1, it is also very different and unique. It is designed and built to carry people, most of all. Space-X hasn’t launched a person or person-rated vehicle into orbit yet. Orion is America’s federally-directed program to give us this capability following the retirement of the Space Shuttle. There could still be some competition and uncertainty about whether the first US astronauts get in space from this vehicle or another vehicle (from Space-X most likely). But for this week let’s admire, respect, and watch how the Orion test launch goes, and hope for successful outcomes! (Hope is not a plan for those involved in the program–but for those of us are observing it’s what we’ve got.)