Within Next Decade, Astronauts Could Reach Mars

Since Apollo 17, human beings have not traveled more than 380 miles above the Earth's surface. But later this year, that will change. NASA is currently working to build a capsule designed to send astronauts more than 3,600 miles into deep space.

This capsule, Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, is being built at the Cape Canaveral Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule includes three sections: a 16.5-foot-wide conical crew module that can hold four astronauts for more than three weeks, an emergency launch abort system, and a module for propulsion power and life support systems. John McCullough, the engineer who leads Orion's 120-person assembly team, said, ''On any given day, there are more and more pieces on it. It looks more like a spacecraft now.''

The 25-ton vehicle will be sent on its first unmanned trip in December of 2014. It is estimated to be a four-hour flight twice around the earth. Its apogee, or the furthest distance it will travel from Earth, will be 3,671 miles. The flight will test the crew module's re-entry system, which includes a number of parachutes and the largest heat shield ever built. In 2017, a second unmanned flight is planned to travel around the moon. By 2021, NASA aims to send long distance-manned flights to asteroids or even Mars.

[Source: Smithsonian ]

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