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Orion Spacecraft: Taking Astronauts Beyond Earth Orbit

The Orion spacecraft (more formally, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) is NASA’s vehicle of choice to take astronauts to the moon, a future lunar space station and potentially, on to Mars.

The spacecraft has already passed one major flight in space in 2014 and is expected to take on a second journey shortly with the Artemis 1 mission, expected to launch no earlier than May 2022. An orbital mission and a landing mission are then expected later in the 2020s.

Similar in shape to the Apollo spacecraft, Orion is designed to carry up to four astronauts to destinations such as the moon or Mars. Orion is a significant upgrade from Apollo — the spacecraft is newer and much larger than Apollo, and sports electronics decades more advanced than what Apollo’s astronauts used to fly to the moon.

The Artemis I Orion spacecraft is lowered by crane after installation of the spacecraft adapter cone at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 20, 2020. (Image credit: NASA/Frank Michaux)

Orion spacecraft Fast facts

  • Crew: 4
  • Height: 50 feet/15 meters (including launch abort system)
  • Diameter (base): 17 feet (5.2 meters)
  • Maximum number of days in space: 21
  • Mass (Artemis 2): 17,000 lbs (7,770 kg)
  • Solar arrays: 4

Orion spacecraft development history

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