by Brooks Hays
Washington (UPI) Dec 2, 2014
NASA's Orion spacecraft is set to take its first trip into space this week. Though the craft won't go far -- just up, twice around in low Earth orbit and back -- it's an exciting time for the future of space exploration.
Though Saturday's planned test flight will be unmanned, Orion's future missions will carry astronauts to the moon, Mars, deep space and beyond. When it does, the chosen space pioneers will have the chance to operate the craft in class and style using a glass cockpit panel.
This week, NASA showed off one of the spacecraft's most impressive features in a video posted online -- its computer screen control panel.
By making the transition from manual switches to a glass touch-sensitive interface, Orion will shave poundage and thus limit its fuel expenditure.
"One big benefit is the weight savings because you don't need to have a physical switch," astronaut Lee Morin explained in a video posted Monday by NASA. Morin, a missions specialist, was involved in the design of the new cockpit panel.
"With a physical switch, not only is there the weight of the switch, but you also have the weight of the wire to the switch, and you have to have the weight of the circuity that takes that wire and feeds it into the vehicle computers," Morin continued.
In addition to saving weight and moving its control panels into the 21st century, the glass interface will also streamline the process of controlling Orion -- the control panel will feature about ten times fewer switches than Apollo's 450-odd switches.
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