Orion 'Mars ship': Nasa gives go ahead to space capsule launch in test that could lead to manned mission to Red Planet

Lockheed Martin’s new spacecraft will be tested in Thursday’s flight, which has a 60% chance of going ahead

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The Independent Online

Nasa has given the go-ahead to a test flight for Lockheed Martin’s Orion space capsule, which is set be the longest flight of a spacecraft made for humans since the 1970s and an important step on the way to a manned mission to Mars.

The craft will set off on Thursday — from around 7am — if the weather permits. There is a 60 per cent chance that the mission will lift off at 7.05am local time as planned.

It will then fly 3,600 miles into space before heading back, about four hours after launch.

The rocket will be fitted with 1,200 sensors that will test whether humans would be able to survive the flight.

Nasa will track the flight online, showing live pictures and giving constant updates.

In-depth: What are the aims of the Orion mission?

Lockheed Martin built the capsule and is staging the $370 million test flight.

The test is an important first step for both commercial space exploration and manned missions to Mars, both of which are likely to be influenced by whether the flight succeeds.

The craft is the first spacecraft for humans since the space shuttles were retired. It will fly further than any spaceship made for humans since the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s.