NASA on Tuesday announced a plan to develop a new deep space vehicle, one based on an earlier capsule concept, in order to send astronauts on expeditions to an asteroid, and then on to Mars.

New Vehicles for man's next step into spaceThe spaceship, known as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), will be based on designs originally planned for the Orion spacecraft, NASA officials announced today (May 24). Orion was part of NASA’s now-canceled Constellation program, which aimed to return astronauts to the moon by the 2020s. [Photos: NASA’s MPCV for Deep Space Flights]

President Barack Obama shut down the Constellation program last year, tasking NASA instead with sending people to an asteroid by 2025, and then to aim for crewed Mars missions by the 2030s. Modifying the Orion capsule design — rather than drawing up plans for an entirely new spaceship — should help make that feasible, agency officials said.

“We made this choice based on the progress that’s been made to date,” Doug Cooke, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C., told reporters today. “It made the most sense to stick with it [the Orion design].”

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