NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Rex Walheim helped mark the T-6 months and counting to the launch of Orion on Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1, during a visit to the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Behind them, the Orion crew module has been stacked on top of the service module in the Final Assembly and System Test cell. EFT-1 will provide engineers with data about the heat shield's ability to protect Orion and its future crews from the 4,000-degree heat of reentry and an ocean splashdown following the spacecraft’s 20,000-mph reentry from space. Data gathered during the flight will inform decisions about design improvements on the heat shield and other Orion systems, and authenticate existing computer models and new approaches to space systems design and development. This process is critical to reducing overall risks and costs of future Orion missions.
Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The first unpiloted test flight of the Orion is scheduled to launch later this year atop a Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth's surface. The two-orbit, four-hour flight test will help engineers evaluate the systems critical to crew safety including the heat shield, parachute system and launch abort system. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/orion. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett