Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Free Article Join Over 1 Million Premium Members And Get More In-Depth Stock Guidance and Research

NASA's Back, Baby! And the Mission to Mars Is a "Go"

By Rich Smith - Dec 5, 2014 at 4:08PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

What does Friday's Orion mission success mean to investors in the space industry?

On Friday, Dec. 5, 2014, America took its first step toward a manned mission to Mars -- and we didn't need a Russian rocket to do it.

Liftoff! Photo: NASA.

After a Thursday plagued by flight delays that ultimately scrubbed a first attempt at launch, NASA launched the EFT-1 mission into space at 7:05 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. Combined efforts by the United Launch Alliance sent a Lockheed Martin ( LMT 2.33% ) -built Orion spacecraft into space atop a Boeing ( BA 3.53% ) -built Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Powered by three of GenCorp's ( AJRD 1.27% ) liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engines in the form of "Common Booster Cores," or CBC, EFT-1 blasted into orbit 260 miles above the Earth, accelerated into a second orbit reaching 3,600 miles -- then spun on a dime and plunged into the Pacific in a picture-perfect splashdown. Along the way, Orion notched successful separations of boosters from the rocket's first stage, second stage from first stage, and capsule from second stage -- and just for kicks, showed that all 11 parachutes designed to slow its descent to Earth functioned flawlessly.

Orion also put its new Lockheed Martin-built heat shield through a real trial by fire. In the experimental, unmanned flight's coup de grace, NASA proved that the two-inch-thick shield was up to the task of protecting the capsule on a 20,000 mile-an-hour trip through the atmosphere, at temperatures reaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and stresses twice those ordinarily faced by astronauts on reentry.

As one NASA spokesman put it, this was "the most perfect flight you could ever imagine."

So much for understatement.

Understatement be darned -- we're going on a mission to Mars!
Yes, it certainly does look that way. Friday's test flight was the first step in a NASA plan to eventually send manned spaceships to the Red Planet sometime after 2030. But while Friday was certainly a fine day for Americans, and for the American space program ... what does all of this mean to investors?

In a nutshell, it means nothing but good things for investors in space-tech leaders Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and GenCorp, all of whose systems functioned brilliantly. In an era of constrained budgets, any significant setback to Friday's test could have pressured NASA to cut its losses, and threatened to call off the proposed mission to Mars -- estimated to cost anywhere from $30 billion to in excess of $100 billion over a term of years.

Instead, the successful first test of Orion furthers a multi-year and multi-billion-dollar march to Mars -- with potential missions to Earth's Moon, to various near-Earth asteroids, and to Martian moons Phobos and Deimos along the way. It means billions of dollars' worth of development contracts to build the new Space Launch System, to prepare Orion to carry human astronauts, and to develop other necessary hardware, all remain online.

And inspired by Boeing's and Lockheed's (and GenCorp's) success, it could mean we'll see a surge in investment in cutting edge space tech by smaller firms. Rival space start-up SpaceX might even feel compelled to hasten its IPO, to attract more dollars to compete with a finally triumphant United Launch Alliance.

Whatever else it means, though, NASA's successful test flight of Orion Friday means above all else: America is on a mission -- to Mars.

SpaceX's Grasshopper experimental reusable rocketship -- no longer the newest (or the coolest?) kid on the space block. Photo: SpaceX.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

The Boeing Company Stock Quote
The Boeing Company
$205.49 (3.53%) $7.00
Lockheed Martin Corporation Stock Quote
Lockheed Martin Corporation
$341.58 (2.33%) $7.77
Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. Stock Quote
Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc.
$43.72 (1.27%) $0.55

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning service.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 12/06/2021.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Our Most Popular Articles

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with the Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from the Motley Fool's premium services.