The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is going with a classic model for its Orion crew exploration vehicle, designed to carry up to six people to the International Space Station, the moon, and eventually Mars. Take a look at the souped-up Apollo-era capsule, still attached to the Ares rocket that will carry it into space.
And here's a view of the capsule on its own:
"Our team, and all of NASA—and, I believe, our country—grows more excited with every step forward this program takes," Orion Project Manager Skip Hatfield says in a press release. "The future for space exploration is coming quickly."
Orion will be capable of transporting cargo and up to six crew members to and from the International Space Station. It can carry four crewmembers for lunar missions. Later, it can support crew transfers for Mars missions.
Orion borrows its shape from space capsules of the past, but takes advantage of the latest technology in computers, electronics, life support, propulsion and heat protection systems. The capsule's conical shape is the safest and most reliable for re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, especially at the velocities required for a direct return from the moon.
I'll say it takes its shape from space capsules of the past. Dig the CEV with some kind of lunar lander:
And here it is with the International Space Station. If you look really closely you can see your tax dollars being burned up to provide energy for the ISS:
The coolest thing about Orion is the logo:
More images at Wikipedia.
So it's something. I can't say I'm swept off my feet, but I'm relieved to hear this baby will use "the latest technology in computers," presumably allowing ENIAC's number-crunching power to be used for other tasks. And given the dire struggle to find a replacement for the space shuttle, it's good that at least something is shaping up.
But since the CEV, if all goes according to plan, will essentially end up servicing the ISS—a task for which the shuttle was invented in the first place—it does leave a question for future historians to sort out: What will be the legacy of the shuttle? Did it contribute anything to progress in space travel, or was it just a 30-year trip to nowhere? (That's a real question, not a rhetorical question.)