A good many people thought that NASA was “closed for business” when the manned Space Shuttle Program was shut down in July of 2011. The fact was that the shuttle program was over 30 years old, and much of the technology used for the shuttles was quickly becoming obsolete.
Thursday marks a come back, if you will, for manned space missions for NASA. There is a 60% chance (due to local weather) that NASA will launch the unmanned Orion Space Capsule on Thursday morning at 7:05am. Orion is planning to orbit the Earth twice well above the International Space Station, and then splash down between 4 and 5 hours later in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. If you are local on the Space Coast you can watch the launch on your local channels. For those of you further away, you can catch the event on NASA.gov starting at 6:00am EST. As of now, NASA is saying that the launch looks to be a go.
Although we see quite a few rocket launches here on the Space Coast, the Orion launch is the most celebrated launch this year. That is because the Orion launch signals the re-start of manned space flight. If this flight is successful, NASA could be sending people back into space after the year 2020. If this flight fails (as the rocket in Virgina rocket recently did), then this entire program could be pushed back by several years.
There were 11 Apollo launches and 135 Space Shuttle flights before the shut down in 2011. President Obama had wanted to turn manned space flight over to private business, and in fact the founder of Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson, has moved forward with Space Tourism. However, the US Congress forced the move to get back into manned space missions and Orion is part of that.
So, if you want NASA to get back into manned space flight, keep your fingers crossed on Thursday morning!