There's no better time to build an interest in space exploration than when someone is still young and impressionable. Scientifically-minded parents and the young-at-heart may be pleased to know that NASA is working on a stunningly geeky picture book detailing the A to Zs of the Orion passenger module. Scheduled for its first manned flight in 2021, the capsule may one day be responsible for placing astronauts on Mars.
The simplistic yet eye-pleasing illustrations come with terse lines like, "C is for Crew Module: a home far away from home for our astronauts," as well as more detailed explanations, including a short exposition on "frangible joints." According to its Facebook page, the agency is planning to eventually release a downloadable book and poster upon completion of the "Orion A to Z" project, which is currently at "K" for "Kinetic."
- A is for Apogee "The term apogee refers to the point in an elliptical orbit when a spacecraft is farthest from the Earth. During Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion’s flight path will take it to an apogee of 3,600 miles. Just how high is that? A commercial airliner flies about 8 miles above the Earth’s surface, so Orion’s flight is 450 times farther than that."
- B is for Beyond "When a spacecraft travels beyond Earth’s orbit, it travels away from the planet, instead of circling around it. Orion is designed for deep space missions to go beyond Earth’s orbit, like going to an asteroid or Mars. The crew module is powered by solar panels and batteries, allowing an unlimited power supply. Orion’s life support system recycles water and oxygen for the crew, which allows them to travel through space for months. Orion’s heat shield and crew cabin are also designed to shield the crew from the intense radiation encountered during deep space exploration."
- C is for Crew Module "The crew module is a transportation capsule that provides a living area for the crew, and storage area for supplies and research instruments. Orion’s crew module will carry astronauts on missions to destinations never before visited by humans and safely return them to Earth. The Exploration Flight Test-1 crew module will be the first Orion test vehicle sent into space."
- D is for Delta IV Heavy "The Delta IV Heavy is the rocket that will launch the Orion Spacecraft on its first trip to space, Exploration Flight Test-1, in December 2014. The Delta IV Heavy rocket is the largest launch vehicle available today capable of propelling more than 60,000 pounds of spacecraft and cargo to a high altitude orbit. Ultimately, Orion will launch atop NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). SLS will be the most powerful and proven propulsion system in the world and will begin launching in 2017!"
- E is for Environment "The ECLSS is a life support system that controls atmospheric pressure, fire detection and suppression, oxygen levels, waste management and water recycling. Orion’s ECLSS will support a crew for missions to deep space and will carry crews farther from Earth than ever before. The ECLSS for Orion consists of technology previously tested on the International Space Station. It will have to support the crew with the essentials like breathable air and drinkable water for 21 days all while fitting in a space smaller than a standard office cubicle!"
- F is for Frangible & Fairings "Frangible joints are breakable joints used to connect the spacecraft’s protective panels, called fairings, to the rocket. A structure is frangible if it breaks, distorts or yields on impact to minimize any hazard to the vehicle. The fairings protect the spacecraft from the changing pressures, temperatures and vibrations of the atmosphere surrounding the rocket during ascent. During ascent, about seven minutes into flight, the Orion spacecraft and launch vehicle will reach 135 miles in altitude. At this point, pyrotechnics will be used to break the frangible joints and separate the fairings, exposing the spacecraft to space."
- G is for Guppy "The Super Guppy is a special airplane capable of transporting up to 26 tons in its cargo compartment measuring 25 feet tall, 25 feet wide, and 111 feet long. The Guppy transported Orion’s heat shield from the Boston area to Kennedy Space Center. In order to prevent the heat shield from cracking, it was shipped in a climate controlled container. The world’s largest whale, the blue whale, would fit inside the Super Guppy!"
- H is for Heat Shield "A heat shield is a protective layer added to the crew module designed to shield the crew and spacecraft from the heat experienced during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. One of the primary goals of the Exploration Flight Test-1 mission is to validate Orion’s heat shield and collect data on its performance as it experiences temperatures near 4,000°F. Orion’s heat shield is the largest heat shield ever constructed at more than 15 feet 5 inches in diameter."
- I is for Isogrid "Isogrid structure is created by removing material from a metal sheet, and retaining the stiffening ribs. This maintains the structural strength of the material while greatly reducing weight. By reducing the weight of the spacecraft structure, we can carry more supplies into space. The pressure vessel used in Orion's crew module was assembled from multiple isogrid pieces welded together. Orion's isogrid was machined from solid pieces of an aluminum-lithium alloy. The barrel portion of the pressure vessel was machined from a single aluminum donut 139 inches in diameter."
- J is for Jettison "Once Orion reaches orbit, its Launch Abort System is jettisoned or discarded, releasing the spacecraft into space. Prior to re-entry, the service module is also jettisoned. For Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), you start out with the rocket’s port, starboard, and core boosters, the service module’s protective fairings, the launch abort system, the second stage/service module, and the forward bay covers…all of this is jettisoned so that only the crew module re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and splashes down!"
- K is for Kinetic "Kinetic energy is the energy of an object that is moving. The amount of that energy is relative to the mass of the object and the square of its velocity. During Exploration Flight Test-1, Orion will be gathering more kinetic energy than any spacecraft has gathered in more than 40 years and must get rid of this energy during reentry for a safe landing. The Orion spacecraft sheds its kinetic energy by interacting with the atmosphere and deploying the parachutes. When Orion reaches the upper layers of the atmosphere, it will be travelling 20,000 mph. The interaction between the heat shield and the atmosphere will slow the spacecraft to about 300 mph before parachutes are deployed to further slow the vehicle to about 20 mph."