There's been a lot of talk of things coming to an end at NASA lately, but there are also some new beginnings, and the space agency has now officially filled in one big gap. It's announced that the so-called Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (or MPCV) will be its go-to space exploration vehicle for missions beyond Low Earth Orbit -- presumably, the individual spacecraft will get names more up to the level of boldly-named vehicles like Endeavor and Atlantis. If it looks a little familiar, that's because the MPCV will be based on the Orion spacecraft that was developed under the now-canceled Constellation program and, like it, it will be built by Lockheed Martin. Once it's put into service, the spacecraft will be capable of carrying four astronauts on missions up to 21 days, and it could even be used as a backup for cargo and crew delivery to the ISS. To actually get into space, it'll blast off atop a heavy lift rocket, and then splash down Apollo-style in the Pacific Ocean. Head on past the break for NASA's official announcement.
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NASA Announces Key Decision For Next Deep Space Transportation System

WASHINGTON -- NASA has reached an important milestone for the next U.S. transportation system that will carry humans into deep space. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced today that the system will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. Those plans now will be used to develop a new spacecraft known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV).

"We are committed to human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and look forward to developing the next generation of systems to take us there," Bolden said. "The NASA Authorization Act lays out a clear path forward for us by handing off transportation to the International Space Station to our private sector partners, so we can focus on deep space exploration. As we aggressively continue our work on a heavy lift launch vehicle, we are moving forward with an existing contract to keep development of our new crew vehicle on track."

Lockheed Martin Corp. will continue working to develop the MPCV. The spacecraft will carry four astronauts for 21-day missions and be able to land in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast. The spacecraft will have a pressurized volume of 690 cubic feet, with 316 cubic feet of habitable space. It is designed to be 10 times safer during ascent and entry than its predecessor, the space shuttle.

"This selection does not indicate a business as usual mentality for NASA programs," said Douglas Cooke, associate administrator for the agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. "The Orion government and industry team has shown exceptional creativity in finding ways to keep costs down through management techniques, technical solutions and innovation."

To learn more about the development of the MPCV, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/mpcv

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NASA commits to Orion-based Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle for space exploration