Orion is currently being built and tested. Like the Crew Dragon and Starliner, the Orion is a space capsule similar to the spacecraft of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. However, the Orion capsule is larger and can hold four people. While the capsule has a somewhat outdated appearance, it is considered safer and more reliable than the NASA Space Shuttle. It was a revolutionary vehicle for its time, but it could only fly in one orbit around Earth and suffered from many catastrophic failures.
On the other hand, the capsules can be separated during launch, to protect the astronauts in the event of a rocket failure. Because of their weight and design, they can also travel beyond Earth’s immediate vicinity and possibly transport humans to the moon or Mars or beyond.
A new era in space travel
By launching the Commercial Crew program and working with private companies to get to the surface of the Moon, NASA hopes to change the economics of space travel by increasing competition and cutting costs. If space travel really becomes cheaper and more accessible, it may be because citizens regularly visit space and catch a glimpse of our water-rich blue home world. For example from space capsules, space stations or even space hotels like the inflatable living units that Bigelow Aerospace wants to build.
The United States is not the only country that has set its sights on the sky. Russia regularly brings people to the International Space Station with the Soyuz spacecraft. China plans to build a large multi-unit space station with three Tycoon astronauts. The country has already put two test vehicles into orbit: Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2. Both of them burned safely in Earth’s atmosphere after several years in space.
More than a dozen countries can now put missiles into orbit. Six space agencies have designed spacecraft that escaped Earth’s gravity and traveled to the Moon or Mars. If all goes well, the United Arab Emirates will join in the summer of 2020 when the Al Amal spacecraft departs for the red planet. Although there are no plans yet to send humans to Mars, these missions – and the discoveries resulting from them – could help pave the way.
This article was originally published in English on NationalGeographic.com