World reacts to Orion’s first test flight
The world was watching America’s first, crucial step on its journey to Mars as NASA’s Orion spacecraft flawlessly launched into space and completed its maiden flight on Dec. 5, 2014. The series of important tests conducted during the flight will provide critical data needed to send humans into space farther than ever, to asteroids and Mars. The Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1 ) made the U.S. hold their breath as the flight engaged many companies and an army of people throughout the country.
Orion’s success brought together Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance (ULA ) , ATK, Ball Aerospace, Aerojet Rocketdyne and series of other U.S. companies nationwide. The test was also attentively watched in Europe as ESA will develop Orion’s service module and a French company Airbus is responsible for building it. Friday’s milestone flight, caught also Russia’s attention as the test heralds the end of U.S. dependency on Russian Soyuz spacecrafts and rocket engines, preparing for space missions based on home-grown engineering.
The successful Orion flight comes when NASA has struggled to overcome funding problems, lack of government support, and criticisms that it has become too dependent on Russia, which provided seats aboard Soyuz craft for transporting astronauts into space, and RD-180 engines to send national security satellites into orbit. The flight will also challenge Roscosmos and other space agencies in the world to develop a spacecraft of the same class.
“I strongly feel that our American counterparts’ success will spur development of a Russian manned spacecraft for outer space flights,” said former Russian cosmonaut Sergey Krikalev, the deputy head of the Russian Central Research Institute of Machine Building. “Like any competition, on the one hand, we congratulate our partners and, on the other, it stimulates our development.”
“When we move ahead, it affects the others,” he said specifying that in the future new joint projects would be possible. “We should look to their steps and to our steps and we will consider where and how we should cooperate and on which orbits.”
It sure has inspired the Canadian Space Agency as it tweeted: “Congratulations NASA, ULA, Lockheed Martin and teams for the spectacular launch of Orion EFT-1! Thanks for the inspiration! An elegant, dignified re-entry for Orion, fitting after such a moving flight. Congratulations NASA!”
ESA was watching closely the Orion launch because the spacecraft will be equipped with a European Service Module, the first time that Europe has provided a system-critical element for a U.S. crewed vehicle.
“Today’s successful flight of Orion is a significant step towards future human exploration beyond low Earth orbit and eventually Mars,” said Thomas Reiter, ESA Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations. “ESA congratulates NASA for this outstanding achievement and we are proud to participate in this exploration endeavour through the development of a critical element of the Orion vehicle.”
The service module will be the powerhouse that fuels and propels the Orion spacecraft in space. It will provide essential functions such as propulsion, power, thermal control and life-support consumables storage and distribution.
“Having been selected to provide the service module for Orion is a major achievement, as this is the first European development of a human spacecraft operating beyond Earth orbit,” said Philippe Deloo, project manager.
“This program is yet another example of the important role that Europe plays globally in the field of human space flight,” said François Auque, Head of Airbus’ Space Systems.
Astronauts all over the world and even at the International Space Station (ISS) watched the Friday’s flight and shared the excitement. Astronauts at the ISS gathered around a laptop to watch Orion’s flight. A photo of the group consisting of U.S., Russian and Italian astronauts relaxing in their home in low Earth orbit was tweeted by NASA astronaut Terry Virts.
“A big step. Congratulations to the Orion team! We’ll learn a lot from this two orbit test flight. Then onwards!” said former Canadian ISS commander Chris Hadfield.
Future UK astronaut Tim Peake congratulated NASA and acknowledged this major step. “Huge congrats to the NASA Orion team – what a great mission and now we’re another step closer to Mars.” Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques added: “Gentle Splashdown ends a successful test flight! Orion has a bright future!”
According to Tommaso Sgobba, executive director of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety, a former head of ESA’s independent safety office, the Orion capsule represents a return to NASA’s past in technology as well as in the style of mission. “This design – the capsule design – is to a certain extent a way of going back in terms of configuration,” said Sgobba. “Clearly, politicians and the public want successes, they don’t want to go to funerals.”
There are also some voices that temper the enthusiasm. “I think to say that this is the road to Mars is a bit much but one shouldn’t detract from the importance of this launch. All of NASA’s future exploration plans are predicated on this system,” said Ian Crawford, professor of planetary science at Birkbeck, University of London.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.