Recent space news involved a company delivering cargo to the International Space Station and the retired Endeavour rolling through the streets of Los Angeles.
Not exactly “Eagle has landed”-caliber moments, but NASA is determined to recapture prominence in space exploration through the Orion next-generation spacecraft under development.
An unmanned Orion capsule test flight is scheduled for 2014, with the first manned trip planned for 2021.
Moog Inc., the Elma-based motion-control equipment maker, is supporting the ambitious project, supplying components for the Orion program. Moog on Monday hosted NASA officials, including Orion program manager Mark Geyer, to share updates and tour Moog’s facilities.
The NASA guests chatted with Moog’s chairman, Robert Brady, and Moog’s chief executive officer, John Scannell, during their visit. Geyer also spoke about the direction of Orion to employees of Moog, along with some from Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor to NASA for the crew vehicle.
Alluding to the election’s potential impact on NASA, Geyer said: “Of course, no one knows exactly where things will go in the next couple of months, but I think the key part of sustaining an exploration program is actually executing the plan.” Carrying out the 2014 test flight on time and successfully is a big part of that objective, he said.
Geyer described the budget for Orion as “tight,” and he urged employees of companies like Moog to suggest ways to use those dollars effectively. “We’re not just pushing the state of the art in technology and engineering development, but also in how we do this job, to be as efficient as possible.”
Orion’s purpose is different from the space shuttles, the workhorses of U.S. manned spaceflight over the past three decades.
“The shuttle was fantastic for low-Earth orbit and assembling things, because it had a big payload bay,” Geyer said. “But it couldn’t go to the moon, it couldn’t go beyond low-Earth orbit. Orion now allows us to go beyond low-Earth orbit, go to the moon, go to Mars, go to those kinds of places. It’s just a different mission.”
Geyer and other NASA representatives are traveling to meet with companies such as Moog that are working on the Orion program, to get a ground-level view.
“You really learn a lot when you talk to them about what the process is, how the budget affects their work, how things that sound really good in [Johnson Space Center]; you get down here, and the implementation is hard. And so, how do we keep those communication lines open so we can be more efficient?” he said.
The Orion program is meaningful to Moog, said Doug Morash, vice president of Moog’s space sector.
“We have $51 million worth of contracts, and that translates into supporting about 250 jobs,” Morash said. “It is also allowing us to increase our state of the art, because it’s pushing the envelopes of capability of the hardware. And in satisfying the NASA needs, we then can take that increased capability and apply it to commercial space, our military customers, who will all benefit from the new techniques and new manufacturing and new products that we produced here for NASA.”
With the space shuttles retired after last year’s final mission, attention has turned to Orion to fill the human spaceflight void for the United States.
Plans call for Orion’s first unmanned flight in 2014 to go 3,000 miles above Earth; by comparison, the Space Station is 200 miles above Earth. A unmanned flight in 2017 will go around the moon, followed by the first manned flight four years later.