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Meet the most ambitious spaceship NASA has ever built

Meet the most ambitious spaceship NASA has ever built

In the August issue of Smithsonian's Air & Space magazine, Tom Vanderbilt tests out NASA's new Orion spaceship, which will go deeper into space than any spaceship has before.

Vanderbilt toured a "low-fidelity mockup" of Orion at Lockheed Martin's Exploration Development Laboratory in Houston, and he describes the spaceship as resembling a Star Wars Stormtrooper's helmet.

Despite massive NASA budget cuts recently, NASA gave the lab $6.1 billion in 2006 for Orion's construction. When the program was canceled, Lockheed Martin created a contract, which has been extended to 2020, to build capsules for three missions. Orion, Vanderbilt writes, is "NASA's most ambitious crewed vehicle ever" and will "carry the human space program for the next 30 years." NASA hopes Orion will be able to complete everything from lunar exploration to Mars missions.

Orion will eventually reach speeds of 20,000 mph, Vanderbilt reports, and will be able to leave low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station is located. According to NASA's website, Orion's first test flight will occur by the end of the year, with Orion atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. Orion's first exploration mission, which will be the first to combine Orion with NASA's new Space Launch System, is scheduled for 2017.

Check out the Orion capsule in the image below. --Meghan DeMaria