As NASA winds down its Space Shuttle program, the agency is looking toward new options for ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and beyond. Lockheed Martin is currently constructing a multipurpose vehicle, called Orion, that is NASA's top choice for missions into deep space.
Lockheed Martin recently unveiled its prototype of the Orion vehicle. MSNBC reports that Orion craft are only 16.5 feet in diameter and will carry a crew of four. Though Orion has been designated as an escape vehicle for the International Space Station, the AP reports that NASA is now considering the craft for other missions.
Lockheed Martin hopes that the craft will bring astronauts to and from the moon, asteroids and even a Martian moon. "Orion was designed from inception to fly multiple, deep-space missions," John Karas, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin's Human Space Flight programs, said in a press release, according to Fox News. "The spacecraft is an incredibly robust, technically advanced vehicle capable of safely transporting humans to asteroids, Lagrange Points and other deep space destinations that will put us on an affordable and sustainable path to Mars."
Lockheed Martin will perform meticulous tests to stress the Orion design and systems before the craft is deemed fit for space travel. The company projects that Orion will be ready for its first orbital flight test in 2013 and for missions into deep space as soon as 2016.
Take a look at the slideshow (below) to view photos of Lockheed Martin's Orion prototype, as wells as renderings of the craft in action. Then, check our photos of Space Shuttle Discovery's final landing.