Astronauts Practice Launching in NASA’s New Orion Spacecraft

Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman try out a prototype display and control system inside an Orion spacecraft mockup at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston during the first ascent and abort simulations for the program. Photo Credit: NASA
Astronauts Rick Linnehan and Mike Foreman try out a prototype display and control system inside an Orion spacecraft mockup at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston during the first ascent and abort simulations for the program.
Photo Credit: NASA

For the first time, NASA astronauts are practicing a launch into space aboard the agency’s Orion spacecraft, and they provided feedback on the new capsule’s cockpit design.

In the ascent simulations, which took place over the course of two weeks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston this month, astronauts rehearsed their roles during an eight-minute climb into space aboard Orion. The rehearsals included procedures that would be required in the event of an emergency with the agency’s new heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket, which is being designed to carry Orion to low-Earth orbit on the first portion of its flights to deep space.
Ten pairs of astronauts participated in two normal launch simulations and two launch-abort simulations inside an Orion mockup fitted with instrument panels and other equipment being designed for the actual capsule. As the two-person crews made their way through a series of tasks, engineers took careful notes of every comment and question from the crew. Their feedback will be considered in the process of fine-tuning the design and build requirements for the displays and controls.
“Simulations like these provide valuable experience by giving astronauts and the operations team an early look at what going to deep space in Orion will be like,” said astronaut Lee Morin, who has been working on the Orion displays as supervisor of Johnson’s rapid prototyping laboratory. “Rehearsing launch and ascent—two of the most challenging parts of Orion’s mission—also gives us an opportunity to work toward optimizing how the crew interacts with the spacecraft.”
Designing a spacecraft’s cockpit to maximize simplicity and efficiency is not easy. Each of NASA’s space shuttles had 10 display screens, more than 1,200 switches, dials, and gauges, and pages of procedures weighing hundreds of pounds on paper. By comparison, Orion, which is designed for deep-space exploration and autonomous or piloted rendezvous and docking, will have just three computer screens, each the size of a sheet of paper, which take advantage of information technology advancements made since the space shuttles were designed in the early 1970s.
“It’s very rewarding work, knowing the displays we are creating and testing now will be what future astronauts will be looking at as they rendezvous with an asteroid, orbit the moon, and even travel to Mars,” Morin said. “Getting this right is key to making Orion and other future vehicles safer and easier to use.”
Orion’s first crewed launch, Exploration Mission-2, is scheduled for 2021, when NASA plans to send two astronauts to an asteroid in lunar orbit. Orion ultimately will allow us to go farther into space than ever before, including destinations such as Mars. NASA plans to make Orion’s data and software available to the agency’s commercial partners, who may adapt it for use in spacecraft that could transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
For more information on the test and images, visit:
For more information on the Orion Program, visit:
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  1. Thank you Heather for a radiant beam of good news, progress on our Orion/Space Launch System gives us something to look forward to. Life, and our invaluable, inspiring program of space exploration, will go on after the shutdown. God only knows that we could use a morale-boosting update, hope springs eternal . . . (even for us here in Detroit).

  2. This site is a breath of fresh air for the Orion bashing fools at Nasawatch, Hobbyspace, Nasaspaceflight, etc.

    If you actually support NASA, you get shouted down by the trolls

    • It’s worth noting that by lumping “support NASA” and “support Orion” together, you’re committing a very similar offense as those that you accuse of being “trolls”. The two are not intrinsically linked. In order for there to be rational discussion about this topic (or any other) amongst people who don’t necessarily agree, you’ve got to allow people to honestly believe that Orion may not be the best way forward for NASA without labelling them “trolls”.

      • Quite agree with your sentiments Matt. Point of fact is that I have sincere doubts as to the viability of both SLS and Orion but it does get difficult to discuss rationally when others tag you as a NASA-hater or Newspacer or whatever the ‘other’ side is.
        Basically I just want to see NASA hsf move ahead but really it has to be sustainable within flat budgets and schedules that slip by many months. I would love someone to demonstrate how that can happen with SLS and/or Orion. Please, anyone?

        • The 7 October Daily Launch of the AIAA reports that in NASASpaceflight(10/7, Bergin) it is stated that “The ace in the hole” may be Elon Musk, who with SpaceX and it’s “large pools of cash” is “highly likely” to reach Mars first.” Since Elon has “large pools of cash” maybe the Newspacers should urge Congress to divert funding from commercial space to Orion/SLS and help eliminate any potential budget problems. No, I didn’t think so. Newspace “support of NASA” usually involves defunding the American Orion/SLS and turning NASA into a money trough to fund ones favorite Newspace “taxpayer-funded free enterprise” crony-capitalism venture.

          • Respectfully suggest that 1) The money being put into CCiCap would be insufficient to bring SLS or Orion back on track, and 2) the ‘legacy’ companies have lots more available and have, over the years benefitted far more from NASA than any so-called Newspace company. Btw, seems like you are right in that SpaceX with its long list of customers, doesn’t really need NASA’s monetary support but guess they take the view that since NASA is willing to pay for a capability, they’ll be happy to take the money. Seems like what any business would do.
            Still waiting for someone to show me how the current SLS and Orion programs can be sustainable with the existing and flat future NASA budgets and projected flight rates.

  3. An important step in the right direction. Let’s hope Orion propels the US to the rightful leadership role in manned spaceflight and silences the critics once and for all.

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