NASA’s unmanned test flight is a step toward Mars

Tim Fitzsimons Dec 4, 2014

The spacecraft Orion was set to launch  Thursday after 10 years of planning, though the flight was eventually scrubbed due to weather conditions and issues with rocket valves.

The idea behind Orion is to eventually get astronauts all the way to Mars.

But a successful launch would also symbolize NASA’s exit from the more mundane aspects of space travel.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon predicted the space shuttle would “revolutionize transportation into near space by routinizing it,” and that is what happened.

Phil McAlister, director of commercial space flight at NASA, said “it’s still very hard to do, but it had become a little routine over the years.”

So routine that the shuttle program was axed, and we now pay Russia over $70 million each time we put an astronaut in the country’s Soyuz craft for a ride to the International Space Station. It’s a relationship so far unsoured by growing U.S.-Russia friction.

“I think for now, we have seen space be outside of those normal political tensions, and I think that’s really good,” McAlister says.

Private American companies like SpaceX hope to send humans to the International Space Station, just 260 miles above us, for a fraction of the cost. Doug Stanley, president of the National Institute of Aerospace, says an Orion mission to Mars, which is tens of millions of miles away, is still very much a galactic dream.

“The biggest problem we have now is not just funding, but a lack of direction and decision-making and leadership,” says Stanley.

To say nothing of the nonexistent pressure from the public.

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