NASA, Europeans team up for Orion capsule

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA is teaming up with the European Space Agency to get astronauts beyond Earth's orbit.

Europe will provide the propulsion and power compartment for NASA's new Orion crew capsule, officials said Wednesday. This service module will be based on Europe's supply ship used for the International Space Station.

Orion's first trip is an unmanned mission in 2017. Any extra European parts will be incorporated in Orion's first manned mission in 2021.

NASA's human exploration chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, said both missions will be aimed at the vicinity of the moon. Lunar fly-bys, rather than landings, are planned.

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NASA wants ultimately to use the bell-shaped Orion spacecraft to carry astronauts to asteroids and Mars. International cooperation will be crucial for such endeavors, Gerstenmaier told reporters.

In Las Vegas, meanwhile, NASA announced it is partnering with a commercial company, Bigelow Aerospace, in a bid to replace the "metal cans" that serve as astronauts' homes in space with inflatable bounce-house-like habitats that can be deployed on the cheap. A $17.8 million test project will send an inflatable room to the International Space Station by 2015, officials said yesterday. -- AP

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