NASA’s unveiled plans for its new space vehicle, called Orion, and an Iowa-born astronaut says he’s itching to be first in line to fly it. Burlington native Jim Kelly has logged more than 38-hundred flight hours in 35 types of aircraft, including piloting the space shuttle Discovery — twice.
Kelly’s last mission was in 2005 to the International Space Station and he’s still waiting for the next assignment. Kelly says he’d jump at the chance to fly Orion. “I’m a test pilot by trade and flying new things is something you always enjoy doing so if I had to pick between the two, I’d pick flying the new one. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to fly both. We’ll see what turns out here in the next couple years.”
While the new class of ship, Orion, is based on the Apollo spacecraft of the 1960s, it will boast a host of technological upgrades — plus, Kelly says it’ll be much larger, able to take a crew of six aloft. Kelly says “I’m very excited about the Orion vehicle. I think it’s fantastic and it’s going to be an order of magnitude safer for the crews onboard and that was the primary focus — on the astronauts — to make the next vehicle as safe as possible for going up and coming back because the important work happens in space.”
Orion is the next step in NASA’s effort to return to the Moon and to eventually put astronauts on Mars. Kelly says it’s an overwhelming undertaking — but it can be done. Kelly says “I hope so. It’s hard to predict all the way out to Mars because you’re talking about 25 years in the future. So many things have to go right, not just technically and engineering-wise but also from a political and financial aspect to make that happen. The best thing for us to do as an agency is to set those goals out there, be working towards them and along the way, just make sure we’re making smart decisions on what we’re doing.”
The 41-year-old Kelly is speaking at several eastern Iowa schools this week and will escort his mother to her 50th class reunion at Muscatine High.