CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – “The future is here – now!” These words were used by Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana to open an event highlighting the arrival of the pressure vessel that will become the flight test article of the Orion spacecraft to be used on the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Numerous dignitaries attended the event which was held at KSC’s Operations and Checkout Building on Monday July, 2 at 10 p.m. EDT.Cabana made sure to emphasize that this was not a “PowerPoint” vehicle but a real spacecraft. He was followed by NASA’s Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who seemed confused suggesting President Obama initiated NASA’s redirection toward human space exploration initiatives (these plans were started in 2004). She also repeatedly referred to the president’s commercial efforts; NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract was started in 2006.
Garver was followed by Senator (D-Fla.) Bill Nelson’s comments underscored the overall feeling of excitement at seeing Orion just behind him. Nelson pointed out that his family had homesteaded the very area that the Kennedy Space Center would later be constructed on. Nelson expressed excitement, stating that the U.S. was on its way and concluding his remarks by stating, “Ladies and gentlemen – the dream is alive!”
NASA speakers included Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer, Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Dan Dumbacher, Space Launch System Spacecraft and Payload Integration Manager David Beaman, and Ground Systems Development and Operations Program Manager Pepper Phillips. Each highlighted the progress that has been made to date as well as milestones that are on the horizon. With this particular spacecraft’s arrival one milestone in particular was on the mind of NASA and its family of contractors – Exploration Flight Test 1 or EFT-1.
Video courtesy of NASA
Both the Ground Test Article and the newly-arrived pressure vessel were on display. The pressure vessel arrived at KSC last week and will be prepared for the EFT-1 mission scheduled to take place in 2014.
EFT-1 will be an uncrewed mission that will go out to a distance of some 3,000 miles and thus generate approximately 84 percent of the energy produced by a lunar flight. The reason for this mission in general and that distance in particular is simple – a shakedown cruise of the spacecraft and its Thermal Protection System (TPS). NASA engineer’s want to put the TPS to the test to see how it handles the incredible temperatures generated upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
EFT-1 will be a dress rehearsal for the main event, Exploration Mission 1 or EM-1. This flight, slated to take place in 2017, will utilize the 70 mT variant of the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket that is being developed to power NASA’s human space exploration aspirations. Orion is key to these plans since it provides a place for the astronauts to live during deep space missions, the ability to safely abort, should the need arise, and all other aspects required to allow the crew to conduct missions.
The Orion pressure vessel was built at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility located near New Orleans. Although Orion will be assembled and launched from KSC, it is NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston that will manage the program.
Presenters at Monday’s event discussed how far NASA has come in terms of getting Orion ready to conduct missions. However, the spacecraft on display still has some ways to go before it can make history. Thermal protection systems, avionics, and numerous other elements, along with a simulated “crew”, will need to be added before ETF-1. For the test flight, the spacecraft will be massed to match that of an Orion on an actual mission by adding ballast weight.
Video courtesy of NASA
After the primary event NASA hosted an interactive session from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with agency officials. They addressed questions asked by followers of various forms of social media. The event was attended by a number of astronauts both active and retired. They universally stated that they would be thrilled to fly on Orion when it goes into regular service.
“I would love to fly on Orion,” said NASA astronaut Nicole P. Stott. “Here we are in front of the spacecraft that is going to take us beyond low-earth-orbit – how cool is that?”
Video courtesy of AmericaSpace
“The EFT-1 mission will utilize an SLS-designed adapter that adapts the cryo upper-stage to the Orion vehicle”, said SLS Spacecraft and Payload Integration Manager David Beaman. “We were already designing that for the SLS Program so we’re providing cost-free to the Orion program for use on EFT-1.”
The first flight of an Orion spacecraft will be launched on a Delta IV Heavy from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex-37 (SLC-37). If both the EFT-1 and EM-1 test flights are successful NASA will use Orion to send astronauts to a variety of destinations including the International Space Station, asteroids, the Moon and possibly one day Mars.
For more information about the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program at Kennedy, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/groundsystems
For more information on the Space Launch System, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sls
For more information about the Orion Program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/orion