Last updated at 11:13 AM on 10th November 2011
Nasa will launch a test flight in 2014 of a new deep-space capsule designed to send astronauts to asteroids, the Moon, Mars.
The Orion capsule, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp, would fly aboard a Delta 4 or Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, said Nasa spokesman Josh Byerly.
The test capsule would be launched into an orbit that soars as high as 5,000 miles (8,000 km) above the planet.
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Having a blast off: An artist’s impression of the Orion crew vehicle in orbit
Making a splash: Engineers conduct a water-drop test of Orion, which will land in the sea when it returns to Earth
After circling Earth twice, it would slam back into the atmosphere at more than 20,000mph (32,000kph), eclipsing the 17,500mph (28,000kph) speed of a returning space shuttle.
The fastest a spaceship has returned to Earth with astronauts aboard was the 24,700 mph (39,700 kph) re-entry of Apollo 10 in 1969, Byerly added.
‘We will learn through this test that Orion would survive re-entry, being as fast as it is,’ he said.
The unmanned test, which will cost Nasa an extra $370million (£232million) including the launch vehicle, will bump back a test of Orion’s launch abort system from 2015 to 2016.
Along with developing Orion, a legacy program from Nasa’s cancelled Constellation moon exploration initiative, the U.S. is developing a heavy-lift rocket based in part on space shuttle hardware.
Under the bonnet: A Nasa weld technician works on Orion
Up, up and away: An artist’s impression of the heavy-lift rocket that will take Orion into space
The goal of the program is to send astronauts to explore an asteroid by 2025.
Nasa has already has spent about $5billion on the Orion program.
As part of the preparations for a possible trip to the Red Planet six astronauts recently completed a 500-day stay in a windowless capsule in Moscow.
The facility simulated confinement, stress and fatigue of interplanetary travel – the only thing not simulated was weightlessness.
The crew communicated with the organisers and their families via the Internet, which was delayed and occasionally disrupted to imitate the effects of space travel. They ate canned food similar to that offered on the International Space Station.
The organisers said each crew member will be paid about $100,000, except the Chinese researcher whose reward hasn’t been revealed by the Chinese officials.
Vitaly Davydov, a deputy head of the Russian space agency, said the experiment will help pave the way for a real Mars mission. He added that it’s not expected until mid 2030s and should be done in close international cooperation
One of the astronauts on board, French engineer Romain Charles, said in a recent diary entry: ‘Our international crew went through the Mars500 mission successfully.
We’re happy and proud to answer positively to the question asked a year-and-a-half ago: ‘Is man able to endure, physiologically and psychologically, the confinement of a trip to Mars?’
‘Yes, we’re ready to go!’
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