A test of the Orion abort system. Photo: NASA/Tony Gray and Kevin O'Connell

The Orion spacecraft — designed to bring astronauts to deep space destinations — is slowly but surely preparing for its first mission to the Moon.

Why it matters: Orion is a major part of NASA's Artemis plans, which are expected to bring astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

Driving the news: The spacecraft passed a key test last week: NASA staged a test of the capsule's abort system, which is designed to pull a crew away from a failing rocket in the moments after launch.

  • That in-flight abort — which NASA says was a success — marks one of Orion's final major milestones ahead of its first crewed mission to the Moon.

Details: The next big test for Orion will be what's known as the Artemis-1 mission, when the capsule — sans astronauts — and huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket fly together for the first time.

  • For that mission — formerly called Exploration Mission-1 — NASA is planning to send Orion on a trip around the Moon and back to Earth, testing the systems the craft will need in space.
  • The first crewed Orion mission is planned for 2022, with the 2024 landing to follow.
  • For the 2024 mission, Orion is expected to fly to the Moon and dock with NASA's yet-to-be-built Gateway space station in lunar orbit. From there, astronauts delivered to Gateway will descend to the Moon's surface aboard a lander.

Yes, but: While Artemis-1 is expected to fly as soon as next year, the timeline is in doubt due to serious delays with both Orion and SLS, leaving little room for further setbacks if NASA intends to meet its 2024 deadline.

Go deeper

Updated 34 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Tim Scott says Trump "misspoke" when he told Proud Boys to "stand by"

Photo: Bonnie Cash/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told reporters on Wednesday that he believes President Trump "misspoke" when he told the far-right "Proud Boys" group to "stand back and stand by" in response to a question about condemning white supremacy at the first presidential debate.

Catch up quick: Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump on Tuesday, "Are you willing, tonight, to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down?" Trump asked who specifically he should condemn, and then responded, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left."

Updated 41 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Commission on Presidential Debates wants changes

Photos: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Wednesday that it plans to implement changes to rules for the remaining debates, after Tuesday night's head-to-head between Joe Biden and Donald Trump was practically incoherent for most of the night.

What they are saying: "Last night's debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," the CPD said in a statement.

Trump says he doesn't know who Proud Boys are after telling them to "stand by"

President Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he doesn't know who the Proud Boys are, after saying at the presidential debate last night that the far-right group should "stand back and stand by" in response to a question asking him to condemn white supremacists.

Why it matters: The comments set off outrage and calls for clarification from a number of Republican senators. After being asked several times on Wednesday whether he will condemn white supremacy, Trump responded, "I have always denounced any form — any form of any of that, you have to denounce. But I also — Joe Biden has to say something about antifa."