NASA reached several milestones in developing a new U.S. space transportation system that will serve as the cornerstone for America’s future human space exploration efforts. The first decision came in late May, when NASA Administrator Bolden selected the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle as the spacecraft that would take astronauts beyond low Earth orbit. In addition to exceeding the requirements necessary for deep space travel, it was consistent with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 to retain as much of the current workforce and its critical skills as possible. In September, Bolden announced the design of a new Space Launch System — a heavy-lift rocket that will take our astronauts farther into space than ever before, create high-quality jobs here at home, and provide the cornerstone for America’s future human space exploration efforts.
In November, NASA announced it planned to add an unpiloted flight test of the Orion spacecraft in early 2014 to its contract with Lockheed Martin Space Systems. The Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, will fly two orbits to a high-apogee and make a high-energy re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere. Orion will land off the California coast and be recovered using operations planned for future human exploration missions. Throughout the year, engineers conducted multiple test firings of the agency’s J-2X engines at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and performed several Orion water drop tests at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. In September, NASA and ATK Space Systems successfully completed a two-minute, full-scale test of Development Motor-3, the agency’s largest and most powerful solid rocket motor ever designed for flight.