Yesterday NASA gave the world a first look at the Orion, a space vessel that will take humans back to the Moon in 2020, and then onward to Mars in the 2030s.
If this saucer shape looks familiar, that's not because this vehicle is based on something hidden in Area 51. Orion is based on the design of the Apollo spaceships that took humans to the Moon back in the 1960s. But Orion can carry 6 astronauts, twice as many as Apollo could.
The Orion, along with the Ares rocket, will replace the Space Shuttle when it goes out of commission next year. According to Reuters:
NASA plans to first take several trips to the moon, a journey of just three days. Each visit will last six months while astronauts set up a campsite and practice the things they want to do on Mars. "That's really the goal — to put humans on Mars, and going to the moon is our testing ground in order to do it," [NASA's Don] Pearson explained.
A lot of work has to be done before the Mars mission, however. That mission would take 3 years round trip, and will probably require a much more robust version of the Orion.
NASA brought a test version of the Orion out to the National Mall in Washington, DC, yesterday, after it had undergone a series of tests in the water - researchers are testing to see how it holds up after a water landing.
Images via TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images.