With the shuttle program ending, NASA has had to make some tough decisions about where to go next. The agency now says it will continue a contract with Lockheed Martin to design a crew capsule that could voyage into deep space.
Doug Cooke is an associate administrator with NASA:
“The design is sound. We consider this vehicle to be the best option for this phase of development for exploration beyond low-earth orbit.”
The shuttle could only reach low-earth orbit, where the International Space Station is.
The new crew vehicle should be able to go much farther.
The design draws on work Lockheed Martin did for the Constellation program, which Obama canceled. What was once known as the Orion spacecraft will now be called the “multi-purpose crew vehicle.”
Lockheed Martin already has about 500 employees in the Houston region working on the project.
Cooke says it will be much safer than the space shuttle.
“A major fact in improving safety beyond shuttle is the fact that we would have an abort system. In case of the failure of the rocket, we would have an abort system that would get the crew away from the vehicle. The space shuttle has never had that capability. So an abort system is an important function. ”
Cooke says the new design will hold four astronauts and go on 21-day missions.
To land, it will splash down in the Pacific Ocean.
But one major problem remains – how to launch this crew vehicle into space. NASA hasn’t figured out what kind of rocket or lift technology to use.
A number of private contractors are working on solutions. But until NASA answers that question, the crew vehicle will stay on earth.