The “Block M” has officially made its way into space.
This morning at 7:05 a.m. EST, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle carried by the Delta IV heavy rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with a University of Michigan flag on board.
Placed there by Corey Brooker, Lead Systems Integrator for Lockheed Martin, the flag will be the only university token taken to high-earth orbit during this "Exploration Flight Test-1" mission.
“This Michigan flag will be flying on board Orion this morning. 73 Michigan alumni have or still work on Orion or EFT-1. This flag will be given to the Aerospace Department for the 100th Anniversary.”
Beyond its Michigan spirit, the mission is regarded as a significant milestone for NASA: it is the first time in over 40 years that NASA has put spacecraft designed for manned missions beyond low earth orbit.
It is hoped that by the mid 2030’s, the Orion spacecraft will be used to transport astronauts to deep space destinations such as asteroids and Mars.
The purpose of this morning’s test flight was primarily data collection. As Lockheed Martin, the prime NASA contractor for the mission, explains:
“EFT-1 will provide engineers with data about systems critical to crew safety such as heat shield performance, separation events, avionics and software performance, attitude control and guidance, parachute deployment, and recovery operations to validate designs of the spacecraft before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in deep space.”
The test flight included two orbits around the earth at an altitude of 3,600 miles (15 times higher than the International Space Station). After 4 hours and 23 minutes, the Orion vehicle reentered the atmosphere at an incredible 4,000F and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean safely.
Though the test flight was a success, Professor Gallimore from the University of Michigan Aerospace Department cautions that it is “only a piece of the puzzle” to successfully executing manned deep space missions. Years of development and testing of other "launch elements," such "astronaut habitats" and robots, will likely be needed to make this dream a reality.
To see the Orion test launch take-off, check out this NASA video at around 1 min:
- Ari Sandberg, Michigan Radio Newsroom