Successor to the Space Shuttle Program: The Orion Spacecraft
The launch and return of NASA space shuttle Discovery mission STS-13, which launched on February 24th, 2011 and made its return landing on March 9th, 2011, marked the end of NASA’s space shuttle program. But what does the end of the space shuttle program mean? What will be its successor?
One of the primary goals of the space shuttle program was to develop a spacecraft that could safely and cost-effectively complete several space missions. By developing a spacecraft that was in a large part reusable, NASA scientists and engineers believed there would be significant cost savings. Unfortunately, the safety of the Space Shuttle turned out to be an issue, with the Challenger and the Columbia disasters being the most significant examples. These disasters not only reduced the cost-effectiveness of a space shuttle since a destroyed shuttle would be unable to be used for its target useful life, but also had significant costs in terms of human lives. As a result, the Space Shuttle program has ended and a new successor will take its place, attempting to be a more effective spacecraft for undertaking various missions.
The follow up to the Space Shuttle is called the Orion spacecraft, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin and actually more closely resembles the spacecraft used in the 1960’s such as the Apollo command module. Rather than focusing on a spacecraft that can be reusable like the space shuttle, one of the goals of the Orion project is to create a vessel that will allow for human space travel to farther destinations. One such destination would be the planet Mars – it is possible that the Orion spacecraft will allow for travel to Mars in the not-so-distant future.