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Spaceships Don’t Go to the Moon Until They’ve Gone Through Ohio

Spaceships Don’t Go to the Moon Until They’ve Gone Through Ohio

From the South, to the Midwest, to infinity and beyond. The Orion spacecraft for Artemis I has several stops to make before heading out into the expanse, and it can’t go to the Moon until it stops in Ohio. It landed at the Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport on Nov. 24, and then it was transferred to Plum Brook Station where it will undergo a series of environmental tests over the next four months to make sure it’s ready for space. Here are the highlights of its journey so far.

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It’s a bird? It’s a whale? It’s the Super Guppy!

The 40-degree-and-extremely-windy weather couldn’t stop the massive crowd at Mansfield from waiting hours to see the Super Guppy land. Families huddled together as they waited, some decked out in NASA gear, including one astronaut costume complete with a helmet. Despite the delays, about 1,500 people held out to watch the bulbous airplane touch down.

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Buckle up. It’s time for an extremely safe ride.

After Orion safely made it to Ohio, the next step was transporting it 41 miles to Plum Brook Station. It was loaded onto a massive truck to make the trip, and the drive lasted several hours as it slowly maneuvered the rural route to the facility. The 130-foot, 38-wheel truck hit a peak speed of about 20 miles per hour. It was the largest load ever driven through the state, and more than 700 utility lines were raised or moved in preparation to let the vehicle pass.

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Calling us clean freaks would be an understatement.

Any person who even thinks about breathing near Orion has to be suited up. We’re talking “bunny” suit, shoe covers, beard covers, hoods, latex gloves – the works. One of our top priorities is keeping Orion clean during testing to prevent contaminants from sticking to the vehicle’s surface. These substances could cause issues for the capsule during testing and, more importantly, later during its flight around the Moon.

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And liftoff of Orion… via crane.

On the ceiling of the Space Environments Complex at Plum Brook Station is a colossal crane used to move large pieces of space hardware into position for testing. It’s an important tool during pretest work, as it is used to lift Orion from the “verticator”—the name we use for the massive contraption used to rotate the vehicle from its laying down position into an upright testing orientation. After liftoff from the verticator, technicians then used the crane to install the spacecraft inside the Heat Flux System for testing.

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It’s really not tin foil.

Although it looks like tin foil, the metallic material wrapped around Orion and the Heat Flux System—the bird cage-looking hardware encapsulating the spacecraft—is a material called Mylar. It’s used as a thermal barrier to help control which areas of the spacecraft get heated or cooled during testing. This helps our team avoid wasting energy heating and cooling spots unnecessarily.

Bake at 300° for 63 days.

It took a little over a week to prep Orion for its thermal test in the vacuum chamber. Now begins the 63-day process of heating and cooling (ranging from -250° to 300° Fahrenheit) the capsule to ensure it’s ready to withstand the journey around the Moon and back. 

View more images of Orion’s transportation and preparation here.

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