NASA announced its plan to send humans to Mars ahead of the first flight test of the space agency’s next-generation Orion spacecraft. As part of its “Next Giant Leap,” the agency detailed its ambitious timeline, which will include a manned mission to an asteroid in the 2020s followed by the first mission to Mars in the 2030s.
On Thursday, Orion will take flight in an uncrewed test, traveling 3,600 miles above Earth (by comparison, the International Space Station orbits around 268 miles above Earth). Orion, developed by Lockheed Martin, will launch atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy Rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, but it will use the next-gen Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in the future. During the four-and-a-half-hour mission, the spacecraft will complete two orbits of Earth before returning at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour and then splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.