Space Station-Bound Astronaut Eager to Fly NASA's Orion to the Moon

A NASA astronaut preparing to fly to the International Space Station Sunday (Nov. 23) eventually wants to go even farther into space … much farther.

NASA's Orion deep-space capsule is slated to be the go-to spacecraft for missions to an asteroid and beyond. See how NASA's Orion spacecraft will work in this infographic. (Image credit: Karl Tate, contributor)

NASA's Terry Virts says he would love to fly NASA's Orion space capsule — designed to take humans farther into space than ever before — to a nearby solar system destination.

"I'd really like to fly Orion to the moon," Virts said to in a September interview. Orion will undergo its first uncrewed test flight on Dec. 4 when it rockets 3,600 miles (5,800 km) above Earth before coming in for a high-speed re-entry. Crewed missions are expected to follow in the 2020s. [See images of the Orion space capsule]

The former test pilot said he's eager to try out any space vehicle. In that spirit, Virts is looking forward to flying into orbit aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that is scheduled to carry him and his crewmates to space on Sunday (Nov. 23).

"One of the things that I enjoyed most about this flight was learning about the Soyuz," Virts told in September. "As a test pilot I've flown a lot of different aircraft and spacecraft."

NASA hopes that the commercial spaceflight companies Boeing and SpaceX will begin shuttling astronauts to the space station from U.S. soil by 2017. One of the major goals of his mission will be to retrofit the station to accommodate these new commercial vehicles, Virts added.

Docking ring and grease

Virts' nearly six-month-mission is expected to feature two spacewalks. Those activities should focus on placing cables and wires that will be necessary to install a docking ring for the commercial vehicles.

The docking ports on the station were originally designed to accommodate vehicles like the Soyuz, various cargo craft and NASA's space shuttles (which have since been retired). But changes will be needed for SpaceX's human-rated Dragon capsule and Boeing's CST-100.

The space station's robotic arm — which grapples with commercial cargo spacecraft — also requires some grease from spacewalkers to loosen it up after a decade in space.

Photography goals

Virts, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti and cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will also be busy inside the station after they launch this weekend. The three Expedition 42-43 crewmembers will help perform 170 U.S.-based experiments and 70 others from around the world.

The all Air Force crew will still have more relaxation time than what Virts was used to during his brief space shuttle flights, however. The NASA astronaut plans to play with the camera, including taking shots of every baseball stadium he can find while he's in orbit.

"One of my goals is to take more pictures than Don Pettit," he joked, referring to the prolific NASA astronaut photographer on Expeditions 30 and 31.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: