On this day last year, the first test flight of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion MPCV) took place. Using it, we should be able to go beyond low Earth orbit to, say, the Moon. Indeed, its next test will be an uncrewed trip around the Moon by the end of 2018. And then, some time around 2022, we plan to send four astronauts into orbit around the Moon. And then a few years later, the first crewed trip to an asteroid.
Now you all know me: I love the robotic space program. I’m not that keen on people going up in space because I’m risk adverse. But this is pretty cool. And if people are going to be orbiting the planet… Plus, the potential for the exploration of asteroids really is great, because it is our first real efforts to address the potential catastrophe of an asteroid striking the Earth. On the other hand, given how well humans seem to be doing in creating their own catastrophes, maybe it is unnecessary. Still: it is worth doing.
Also: the cost of the mission is estimated to be less than $3 billion. That’s roughly 50 times less than colonizing the Moon — much less Mars. But I know how all of you are really excited about colonizing Mars, so listen up: Orion is an important step in that too. It seems to me that Orion is about the most exciting thing happening in crewed space exploration. It’s a bit of a return to the Apollo days.
On the other hand, Donald Trump will probably destroy the world before we ever reach an asteroid. Here’s hoping I’m wrong!