The Orion spacecraft will undertake an unmanned mission to a distance of 40,000 miles beyond the Moon and back. This will be NASA’s first step for man’s mission to Mars. The launch date of the three-week voyage is still under wraps and right now the exercise is to test the heat shield. Labeled as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), it will be launched by NASA's Space Launch System rocket.

Daily Mail UK reports that the heat shield installed on the spacecraft will have to withstand high temperatures of thousands of degrees fahrenheit during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere before it splashes into the Pacific Ocean.

The heat shield is made of carbon fiber material and is designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

History in the making by NASA

Engineers have been breaking their heads trying to evolve a material that can withstand the high temperatures generated while a rocket or a spaceship enters the atmosphere of the Earth. That problem appears to have been resolved by creating an ablative material that has been developed by Lockheed Martin. It is called Avcoat and blocks made out if this material have been attached to the surface of the heat shield.

These will burn away at the time of re-entry and remove the heat generated.

NASA engineers will monitor the behavior of various systems of the Orion spacecraft during its first Moon mission. They will have to ascertain its performance not only in deep space but also during its return journey to Earth. Orion has been identified as the exploration spacecraft that will ferry the astronauts.

It will be fully equipped to cater to all the needs of space travelers who will be engaged in exploratory missions. The unmanned EM-1 is planned for launch next year and will be followed by the manned EM-2 in 2021.

Incidentally, Lockheed Martin has plans to set up a 'Mars base camp' which will orbit the red planet. It has a tentative launch timeframe of ten years, and once it materializes it will help astronauts to get closer to the Red Planet by using rovers and drones.

NASA moves towards its goal

According to The Space, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will be the mode of transport to take humans to destinations like the Moon, Mars and beyond. It has got the heat shield installed and is getting ready to send the spacecraft on a test mission. This shield is 16.5 feet in diameter and is designed to withstand temperatures of nearly 5,000 degrees fahrenheit.

The protection will be provided by Avcoat. This is not a new material but has been used earlier on heat shields of even the manned Apollo moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s. However, for the current mission, the process is different. Engineers have attached blocks of the material to the shield instead of injecting it. The success of this mission will boost NASA’s confidence level.