With the Space Shuttle about to embark on its farewell flight NASA is hard at work on the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which is derived from the Orion capsule in the now defunct Constellation project. The space agency recently met a major milestone in continuing their human spaceflight program with the first complete, space-worthy assembly of the Orion spacecraft in Denver, Colorado.
Though designed for space, this first capsule has a long and earthbound road ahead of it. Now that its complete, it will undergo rigorous vibration testing in Colorado, before being shipped off to the Langley Research Center in Virginia for splashdown trails. NASA hopes to have an unmanned test flight of an Orion capsule by 2013, with a manned launch tentatively planned for 2016.
That still leaves NASA a sizable gap for manned spaceflight, likely to be filled by the Russian space agency and private companies like SpaceX. But once complete, Orion could be the craft that takes astronauts to visit asteroids and someday land on Mars.
(via Universe Today)