via USA Today.
NASA announced that the replacement for the current Space shuttle, the Orion spacecraft project, to be on schedule and should be ready for test flights as soon as September of next year. The Orion is more similar in design to the Apollo craft that took US astronoauts to the moon, although much larger.
"Orion will be much larger and capable of carrying six people in its crew capsule to the space station (four to the moon). Orion will be 16.5 feet in diameter and have a mass of about 25 tons. Inside, it will have more than two and a half times the volume of an Apollo capsule. Also, where Apollo's power system used fuel cells, Orion will use solar arrays."
The system is comprised of four parts, a launch vehicle, a crew module, a service module containing the engine and a launch abort system. The primary challenge to the project today is in developing heat shield materials that can withstand both re-entry to earth as well as a lunar mission. Orion is expected to be in service around 2010, start missions to the ISS around 2015 and it is planned to be used to take astronauts back to the moon around 2020.