Nasa takes one small step and selects craft to put people on Mars

President Bush's pledge to revive the US space programme has moved a step nearer fulfilment afterLockheed Martin won the contract to build a craft to send astronauts back to the Moon - and later perhaps on a manned flight to Mars.

The craft, named the Orion, resembles a larger version of the Apollo module that last took men to the Moon in 1972. It will replace Nasa's Space Shuttle, which will be taken out of service in four years' time.

Orion is not scheduled to make its first manned flight until 2013 at the earliest, meaning there will be a three-year interval in which the US will have no craft to service the International Space Station.

Unlike the Shuttle, which which flies back to Earth, lands on a runway and can make dozens of flights, Orion will not be reusable. It will be blasted into space on a multi-stage rocket named Ares, which is scheduled to make its first test flight in 2009.

After completing its mission, the module will return to Earth by parachute, in the same way as the Apollo craft. There, however, the similarities mostly end. Orion will take six men into orbit, and be capable of landing as many as four on the Moon. Like the Shuttle it will be able to carry equipment and supplies to the space station.

Though it will employ the basic and proven Apollo design, the new craft will have infinitely superior electronics and computer technology - leading some Nasa officials to call the project "Apollo on steroids".

Skip Hatfield, the space agency's project manager described the Orion craft as, "the very future of human space flight".

Nasa's timetable calls for a Moon landing by 2020 - almost half a century after the Apollo 17 mission of December 1972, when men landed on the Moon for the last time. Some time after that, Orion might attempt to travel to Mars in the first manned mission to another planet in the solar system.

Both the space agency and Mr Bush hope the new programme, which is estimated to cost a total of $230bn (£121bn), will rekindle public enthusiasm for space travel, which is still recovering from the Columbia disaster of 2003, and repeated delays to Space Shuttle launches after missions resumed last year. The award of the Orion contract, worth a total $8.2bn, represents a notable success for Lockheed Martin, after the forced cancellation in 2001 of its X-33 "space plane" project, originally conceived as the Shuttle's replacement but beset by technical problems.

For the first time Lockheed will lead a manned space project. The big loser is Boeing, the rival bidder to Lockheed which had been widely expected to be Nasa's choice.

Despite the current revival in its commercial aviation business, Boeing's space division has suffered a series of difficulties. So troubled was its spy satellite programme that the Pentagon eventually transferred the business to Lockheed, and Boeing engineers had to shoulder some of the blame for the loss of Columbia.

Boeing is also a major contractor for the space station, which has been plagued by cost overruns. Many experts warn that Orion could experience a similar fate. Nasa projects tend to run 50 per cent or more over initial budget mainly because the company that wins the contract tends to be a monopoly supplier, with little incentive to stay within budget.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine