KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – This week’s appearance of the Moon over the Kennedy Space Center marks the perfect backdrop heralding the start of NASA’s determined push to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s via the agency’s new Orion crew capsule set to soar to space on its maiden test flight in less than two days.

Orion is the first human rated vehicle that can carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit on voyages to deep space in more than 40 years.

Top managers from NASA, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and Lockheed Martin met on Tuesday, Dec. 2, and gave the “GO” to proceed toward launch after a thorough review of all systems related to the Orion capsule, rocket, and ground operation systems at the launch pad at the Launch Readiness Review (LRR), said Mark Geyer at a NASA media briefing on Dec. 2.

A new countdown display has been constructed in the place of the former analog countdown clock at the Press Site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for Orion’s first launch slated for Dec. 4, 2014. The display is a modern, digital LED display akin to stadium monitors. It allows television images to be shown along with numbers. Note former shuttle launch pad 39A in the background above clock. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is slated to lift off on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on its inaugural test flight to space on the uncrewed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission at 7:05 a.m. EST on December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

America’s astronauts flying aboard Orion will venture farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System starting around 2020 or 2021 on Orion’s first crewed flight atop NASA’s new monster rocket – the SLS – concurrently under development.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially unveils world’s largest welder to start construction of core stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at NASA Michoud Assembly Facility, New Orleans, on Sept. 12, 2014. SLS will be the world’s most powerful rocket ever built. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The current weather forecast states the launch is 60 percent “GO” for favorable weather condition at the scheduled liftoff time of at 7:05 a.m. on Dec. 4, 2014.

The launch window extends for 2 hours and 39 minutes.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour Orion EFT-1 flight around Earth will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

EFT-1 will test the rocket, second stage, and jettison mechanisms, as well as avionics, attitude control, computers, and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft.

Orion atop Delta 4 Heavy Booster. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Then the spacecraft will carry out a high speed re-entry through the atmosphere at speeds approaching 20,000 mph and scorching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit to test the heat shield, before splashing down for a parachute assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA TV will provide several hours of live Orion EFT-1 launch coverage with the new countdown clock – starting at 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 4.

Orion’s move to Launch Complex-37. Credit: Mike Killian

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage and he’ll be onsite at KSC in the days leading up to the historic launch on Dec. 4.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer
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Learn more about Orion, SpaceX, Antares, NASA missions, and more at Ken’s upcoming outreach events:

Dec 1-5: “Orion EFT-1, SpaceX CRS-5, Antares Orb-3 launch, Curiosity Explores Mars,” Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, evenings

Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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