Colin Baker knows a thing or two about space and time travel, at least in a totally made up and fictional capacity, so it makes sense that NASA would employ him to introduce the next way that humans have cooked up to hurtle ourselves through the vacuum of space. The former Doctor Who star showed up on the official Facebook page for the space agency’s new Orion spacecraft, giving the vessel a quick, but appropriate introduction to the world.
Baker, the sixth incarnation of the Doctor, played the venerable Time Lord from 1984 through 1986. At the time, he was only the second actor to ever take the role after previously appearing on the show, a path Peter Capaldi recently followed to become the twelfth Doctor. In 1983, Baker appeared on the series in “Arc of Infinity” where his character actually shot the Doctor, played then by Peter Davidson, so he’s also the only Doctor who shot himself, at least as far as I’m aware.
Orion is a craft designed and intended to send humans farther away from our planet than ever before, beyond low Earth orbit, and despite what Baker says, I doubt it’s actually bigger on the inside. It has the ability to get us to nearby asteroids and perhaps even to the surface of Mars itself. With space to allow a crew of four to live and work, Orion “will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.”
Described as “Apollo on steroids,” NASA is currently preparing to launch Orion on its first test flight in just a few short weeks. Scheduled for December 4, Orion will blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base strapped to a Delta IV heavy rocket. After jettisoning the launch-abort system, which will be specifically tested on a future flight, the craft will orbit Earth twice. During the four-hour flight, it will reach distances of 3600 miles from Earth, which is approximately 14 times the distance between us an the ISS. When it is done with that, Orion will parachute into the Pacific Ocean.
The Orion Flight Test is designed to asses a variety of areas, including launch, re-entry, avionics, attitude control, heat shield, and parachutes. These are all things that you want to be working properly should you be tooling around in space and want to get home. This marks a substantial step towards further human exploration and possibly to putting someone down on Mars.