2014 marks the year of liftoff for the Orion Program. This is an ambitious program by NASA to capture an asteroid, to put a man on the moon again and for humans to walk on the red planet.
The program will make humans travel further than ever before and with much more complex endeavors in space, making use of space as a means of distance to other destinations, rather than as it has been for the latest decades, as a destination itself, the International Space Station and such.
Initial planning for the program has been underway for several years, with research, building and designing the necessary spacecraft to reach the ambitious goals. Developing new rockets for the Orion multipurpose crew vehicle (the Space Launch System).
The Orion spacecraft will allow for more distant traveling in space and also enable flexibility and landing astronauts on other celestial objects. Also to be implemented is an abort system to allow astronauts to abort launch and pull the crew module to safety in a life-threatening situation.
NASA will also develop and design technology for the capability to capture an asteroid. To develop protection for astronauts against radiation in space and on the surface of Mars. A new heat shield for the Orion capsule that is able to protect against much higher temperature with Orion entering Earth’s atmosphere at 32200 km/h (20 000 mph), compared to that of the space shuttles at 20100 km/h (12 500 mph).
NASA will first perform several unmanned test flights and if successful, NASA can proceed as planned with a lunar orbital flight in 2017. The mission to find and capture an asteroid will take place in 2021.
Further into the future when astronauts are traveling to Mars, the Orion multipurpose vehicle will mainly provide a means for astronauts to reach the intermediate space, but to then travel to the Red Planet, another spacecraft will probably need to be developed and probably assembled in space orbiting Earth. This would be a much larger spacecraft capable of sustaining life for several months.
Orion Spacecraft Mission Page