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Bringing Orion Home: How the U.S. Navy will pluck our future astronauts from the sea

Posted by Jason Davis

14-02-2014 12:16 CST

Topics: future technology, human spaceflight

One day in the not-so-distant future, a spacecraft called Orion will splash gently into the Pacific Ocean under three striped orange and white parachutes. There will be astronauts inside returning from an expedition to a near-Earth asteroid or Mars. They will have been deeper into space than any previous human beings, but out of the millions of miles they have travelled, the last five will suddenly become the most important.

Somewhere nearby, Mike Generale, NASA, and the U.S. Navy will be heading directly for the Orion capsule as it bobs helplessly in the waves. Generale is the Orion Recovery Operations Manager and Recovery Test Director at Kennedy Space Center. His team will be aboard one of the Navy’s Landing Platform/Dock (LPD) class ships, which come equipped with a floodable hangar used to launch and retrieve other watercraft.

Orion won’t carry astronauts until at least 2021, when it is scheduled to take humans to a captured near-Earth asteroid. Prior to that, it will make two uncrewed test flights—the first of which is scheduled for September of this year. But before Orion departs on its maiden voyage, NASA and the Navy have some practicing to do. They must make sure they can quickly and safely pluck the capsule out of the Pacific Ocean when it returns home. And to do that, they’ll have to revive some techniques that haven’t been used since 1975, when America’s last Apollo capsule returned from space.

Orion recovery training at Naval Station Norfolk

NASA Langley Research Center

Orion recovery training at Naval Station Norfolk
U.S. Navy divers from the U.S.S. Arlington approach the Orion spacecraft in the waters of Naval Station Norfolk during recovery training on Aug. 15, 2013.

Crawl, Walk, Run

The training for Orion’s recovery began last August at Naval Station Norfolk, when NASA and the U.S. Navy practiced hauling the capsule into the well deck of the U.S.S. Arlington. The Arlington is a sister ship of the New York and Somerset. All three were named after Sept. 11 attack locations, and the New York and Somerset used steel from their respective wreckage sites in the boat’s construction. 

“I always tell people that this class of ship is like a cross between an aircraft carrier and a submarine,” Generale said. LPD-class ships have cavernous 50 by 200 feet openings called well decks at their sterns. The well deck sits at sea level and can be flooded with 8 to 10 feet of water, allowing for the transport of ships like hovercraft carrying tanks and trucks to shore.

Mike Generale
Mike Generale
Mike Generale is the Orion Recovery Operations Manager and Recovery Test Director at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA

How does one flood and then dry a well deck?

“They have ballast tanks on board the ship,” Generale said. “It’s kind of like in a submarine—they fill those tanks with water and the ship will lower itself down into the sea.” To get the deck dry again, air is forced back into the ballast tanks. As the ship rises from the sea, the water is drained out of the well deck. 

For the Norfolk tests, the Arlington was moored to its pier within the calm waters of Hampton Roads, at the mouth of the James River. “We wanted a very controlled environment,” Generale said. “We had very benign conditions.” The tests were part of an approach he calls “crawl, walk, run.” Norfolk was a crawl. For the walk and run, NASA and the Navy will replicate their efforts out on the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The Orion capsule used in the recovery tests is called the Boilerplate Test Article. It’s the same capsule NASA has been test-dunking in a large pool called the Hydro Impact Basin at NASA’s Langley facility. Following the Norfolk retrieval tests, NASA shipped the test capsule to Naval Base San Diego. It spent a couple weeks on the road, making stops on a social media tour.

At the end of February, Generale’s team and the Navy will head out into the Pacific for open water recovery training. The tests are currently scheduled to take place aboard the U.S.S. San Diego, but ultimately, any available LPD-class ship can be used. The Navy will spend four days setting Orion adrift and recovering it in progressively choppier waters. Generale hopes to wrap up testing by practicing a recovery in the maximum allowable conditions. “We hope to be able to recover in up to six foot seas,” he said. Because practicing Orion recoveries offers valuable training that can be applied to other situations, the Navy and NASA have an agreement that makes it very affordable to NASA, according to Generale.

Orion splashes down

NASA Langley Research Center

Orion splashes down
NASA's Orion Boilerplate Test Article splashes into the Langley Hydro Impact Basin during drop testing on Sept. 12, 2012.

How to recover a bobbing Orion capsule

Navy divers will initially approach Orion using Zodiac boats and rigid-hulled inflatable boats. It’s a dangerous job. Hazards include being pinned between a boat and the capsule, or falling in the water and getting trapped underneath. 

“The capsule is essentially a big buoy out there bobbing in the water,” Generale said. “It doesn’t have a keel; it doesn’t have any rudders. You have this 16-foot diameter, 20,000-pound bobber bouncing around in the water.”

The LPD ship will release between 600 to 700 feet of a 1000 foot winch line—standard boating fare that you can purchase at your local marine store. “We use off-the-shelf hardware as much as we can to keep expenses down,” Generale said. Divers will secure the line to Orion using a handy built-in attach point. Tending lines will be connected to two additional attach points, and the LPD will slowly pull Orion forward to stabilize the capsule. The winch will then reel Orion into the ship’s flooded well deck. 

“The recovery of the capsule is very similar to the recovery of an incapacitated hovercraft or landing craft,” Generale said. “It’s just a different vehicle and we have to get the Navy used to the nuances of our capsule as opposed to what they normally do.”

Orion inside the U.S.S. Arlington's flooded well deck

NASA Langley Research Center

Orion inside the U.S.S. Arlington's flooded well deck
Navy personnel monitor Orion as it is berthed onto its recovery cradle inside the U.S.S. Arlington's flooded well deck. Once the capsule is secured, water is drained from the well deck.

Inside the well deck is a recovery cradle with two rubber bumpers. Orion will be snugged gently up against the bumpers as line tenders on platforms inside the well deck help secure the capsule. As water drains from the well deck, Orion will be berthed onto its recovery cradle. “It’s really quite similar to recovering a boat on a trailer,” Generale said. “It’s what we modeled it after.”

Although there will be no crew in the capsule for the recovery tests, there will be eventually, and they’ll be eager for some fresh air. “One of the requirements for us is to get the crew out of the capsule within two hours of landing,” Generale said. While the Navy can’t control how far Orion lands from the recovery ship, they hope to have the hatch open in just over an hour. 

“We don’t want to leave the crew inside the vehicle any longer than necessary,” he said. “If you’ve ever been bobbing around in a small boat—especially if you’re trying to get used to Earth’s gravity again—it can be quite a harrowing experience.” The crew will rely on two hours of battery power to recirculate cabin air and keep the capsule’s cooling system functioning. Once Orion is secure on the recovery cradle, an access stand will be installed next to the capsules’ side hatch and a flight crew will help the crew egress.

If necessary, a snorkel fan can be used to get the crew fresh air. It won’t be used unless needed to cut down on the risk of leaky thrusters seeping toxic gas into the capsule. As a matter of fact, something similar happened during NASA’s last splashdown in 1975. As the Apollo-Soyuz crew hurtled back to Earth, a pressure valve allowed fumes from the Apollo capsule’s reaction control system to enter the cabin. The crew was nearly knocked unconscious and spent two weeks recovering in the hospital.

A thruster leak could also spell trouble for the Navy divers approaching the capsule, so divers will have equipment on hand to check for leaks. They will also make sure Orion’s S-band communications antenna, which is used to communicate with the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system, has been turned off. 

“There are some antennas near attach points and we don’t want to irradiate the recovery crew,” Generale said, adding that divers would need to be relatively close—within a foot—to suffer harmful effects. Nevertheless, “people in small boats, bobbing around—you can’t always control precisely where you want to be.” The Orion crew will still be able to use other radio transmitters to communicate with the recovery ship. 

Orion on the U.S.S. Arlington well deck

NASA Langley Research Center

Orion on the U.S.S. Arlington well deck
The Orion Boilerplate Test Article sits on the dry well deck of the U.S.S. Arlington during recovery training at Naval Station Norfolk on Aug. 15, 2013.

Exploration Flight Test 1

Orion will conduct its first shakedown cruise in September on a four-and-a-half-hour mission called Exploration Flight Test 1. The short flight means bad weather at the splashdown site could delay the launch. The mission begins with a Delta IV Heavy launching Orion from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Orion will remain attached to the Delta’s upper stage for lap around the Earth. Then, the upper stage will reignite, sending the capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles. It will be the highest a human-rated spacecraft has been since Apollo 17. The trajectory will give Orion 85% of the energy that it would have if it were coming home from the moon. As Orion comes back around the Earth on its second orbit, it will separate from the upper stage, which will perform a disposal burn to send it safely away from Orion and any shipping traffic.

Generale said Orion’s flight corridor is 25 miles wide. The capsule’s reaction control system gives it a slight amount of control as it falls back to Earth. Additionally, the capsule has an offset center of gravity, which causes it to spin slightly as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere. This gives Orion some additional control over its ride. “We can steer a little bit left and right,” Generale said. “That’s something we’ve demonstrated on Gemini through Apollo.”

Eight minutes until splashdown, at just 10,000 feet, Orion’s forward bay cover pops off, revealing the “flowerpot,” the central connection point for the spacecraft’s parachutes. Two drogue chutes are deployed first, which stabilize the capsule’s descent. Pilot chutes are released next, which pull out three main parachutes. The capsule can safely splash down with just two parachutes inflated—something that NASA recently demonstrated during drop tests at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds.

As Orion descends, Generale and the Navy will receive updates on its position from Mission Control. The landing zone for EFT-1 is about 800 miles south of San Diego and 100 miles west from the tip of Baja California, in international waters. The landing zone has a diameter of five nautical miles, and Generale expects to be at the zone a day ahead of time. NASA will send out a “Notice to Airmen and Mariners” advising them to steer clear of the area. “We don’t want our capsule coming down on a fishing trawler,” Generale said.

He isn’t yet sure exactly how far out of the landing zone the Navy will sit as Orion descends, or the exact moment they will move in, since Safety assessments are still in work. Helicopters will be in the air to spot the capsule and capture high-resolution images of its heat shield before it smacks the water.

Orion Boilerplate Test Article

Jason Davis

Orion Boilerplate Test Article
The Orion Boilerplate Test Article sits at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Ariz. on Dec. 31, 2013. The capsule participated in a cross-country social media tour during its trip to Naval Base San Diego for recovery training in the Pacific Ocean.

Generale said imaging the heat shield prior to impact will allow engineers to assess its performance. The shield is 16 feet in diameter—the largest ever flown. “We are revitalizing some Apollo technology on this heat shield,” he said. It’s a very similar design to what was used on Apollo.”

The helicopters will also be on the lookout for the components Orion will shed as it descends, which includes the forward bay cover, pilot chutes and drogue chutes. “There will be some pieces of hardware in the air with the capsule at the same time,” Generale said. “When those hit the water, our intent is to pick up after ourselves. Our mothers taught us well.”

As Orion approaches the ocean under its 116-foot main parachutes, the spacecraft’s offset center of gravity will cause it to strike the water at a 26-degree angle. This makes the impact more comfortable for the crew, which will absorb the impact along their spines, rather than their backs. Even so, the capsule hits the water at about 20 to 25 miles per hour. “It gives them a pretty good jolt,” Generale said.

When the capsule hits the water, the parachutes will be released. “There’s a guillotine—a pyrotechnically activated blade that cuts through the steel risers and releases them from the capsule,” Generale said. While it is possible for the parachutes to land on the capsule, he said there is usually a breeze at sea to prevent this from happening. 

The Delta IV Heavy

United Launch Alliance

The Delta IV Heavy
A Delta IV Heavy, which will be used to launch Orion on Exploration Flight Test 1, lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2012 carrying the classified NROL-15 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

Orion has three landing positions: upright, upside-down or on its side. Upright is known as Stable 1 and is the preferred position. Upside-down is known as Stable 2, and astronauts aren’t big fans of this orientation because “they’re hanging upside down off their couches,” Generale said. To keep Orion right-side-up, a series of bright balloons called CMUS, the Crew Module Uprighting System, automatically inflate from the capsule’s top upon splashdown. “It’s akin to the system that was used on Apollo. Historically, we found that 50% of the time during the Apollo and Skylab missions, the wave and wind condition could be just right to flip the capsule upside down.” There’s also a side position called Stable 3, but getting there entails multiple CMUS failures, which Generale said is unlikely.

The EFT-1 Orion capsule will be refurbished and used later for an ascent abort test at Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft will launch atop a repurposed Peacekeeper missile first stage and sail out over the Atlantic Ocean, at which point the launch abort system will ignite, testing the capsule’s ability to scramble away from a failing launch vehicle.

As for future Orion capsules, they are, for the most part, not reusable.

“There will be some components that can be re-used—probably some avionics boxes and things like that,” Generale said. “But because of landing in a saltwater environment, we will not be reusing the main structure.”

It has been ten years since NASA announced construction of what was initially known as the Crew Exploration Vehicle. When Orion finally completes its first mission later this year, Generale and the Navy will be the first to welcome it home. In the process, they will recreate a scene that hasn’t played out in American spaceflight for nearly 40 years. 

“We’ve had a very good working relationship with the Navy, recreating the relationship we had during Apollo,” he said. “The crews that we’ve worked with have been enthusiastic and helpful and have provided a lot of good information for us. It’s been a joy working with them.”

 
See other posts from February 2014

 

Or read more blog entries about: future technology, human spaceflight

Comments:

Telluric: 02/14/2014 06:14 CST

Unfortunately Orion is a dinosaur. The tests and training will be all for not. Like SLS, Orion is up against commercial alternatives now. It is not cost effective. CxP had planned a reusable CEV (Orion) but this one is not; CST-100, Dragon and Dream Chaser are. The only reason Orion might survive and SLS will not is that NASA might be able to take the meek arguments for maintaining Orion and sweep them under the rug. NASA needs habitats for travel beyond LEO not a capsule which commercial will offer at a fraction of the price of Orion. Already, SpaceX has launched the capsule Dragon, proved its parachutes, water landing and retrieval. The step from cargo to crew is minor compared to NASA dredging up their old capabilities with Navy - not cutting edge and its costly.

porkfight: 02/15/2014 03:39 CST

You have it backwards Telluric. Low earth orbit spaceraft like CST-100 and Dragon are dinosouars. These spacecraft do not have sufficient radiation hardening, volume, and other systems needed to operate beyond earth orbit or even serve as reliable direct return vehicles from cis-lunar space. They will be made obsolete by Orion and SLS as our human spaceflight focus shifts beyond low earth orbit. Also, your statement that those vehicles are "commercial" is laughable, and your statement of reusability is false. Orion is reusable up to 10 times, and it lands on land in contingincies. The green protective primer you see on the vehicle protects it from saltwater. For another comparison, note that Dragon has not been reused yet, even though it's unmanned.

Messy: 02/15/2014 09:25 CST

The spacecraft will have a test flight in September, but then won't be launched again until 2021? Without a "Lunar Module", the thing cannot do anything besides orbit the Moon. The planned asteroid mission requires that an asteroid be captured by an unmanned craft which would tow it into lunar orbit. What is Orion going to do between this year and teh Apollo 8 redo in 2021? Will there be a redo of Apollo 7 sometime between now and then? They've been working on Orion longer than they worked on Apollo and they haven't even launched anything yet.

Nick Oberg: 02/15/2014 09:37 CST

Porkfight, You state "Orion is reusable up to 10 times, and it lands on land in contingencies" while the article says "As for future Orion capsules, they are, for the most part, not reusable. There will be some components that can be re-used—probably some avionics boxes and things like that. But because of landing in a saltwater environment, we will not be reusing the main structure." Messy, "The spacecraft will have a test flight in September, but then won't be launched again until 2021?" Another Orion will fly in 2017.

Bob Ware: 02/15/2014 01:56 CST

Good article Jason. Orion is looking to be more of wasted effort than not. Sure it'll have a use but not a use it is being billed to do. Orion was to have been a reusable interplanetary cruiser design however no one did that. The interior should be modifiable without any outer hull work what-so-ever. Originally is it was to have had a crew capability of 8 now it's only 4. It's to small for one spacecraft to do what they want to do. The private sector is off to a great learning start with what they have right now and in the future they will be able to expand upon their knowledge. By comparison they are equivalent to NASA's Mercury days but I don't think they stay in that rut very long. If you want a job done right, don't rely on any official structure of a country level government. Let those who know how to do it, do the job. You absolutely cannot do a Mars mission with one Orion spacecraft or for that matter four. You need a true interplanetary cruiser and Orion is not that. Leave her in orbit and change her interior based upon mission need. Sure that will require a construction station in orbit so build it, then build the interplanetary cruiser. We can do this. Do we have the will as a planetary species to do so. From where I sit, no. We don't. Some of us do, such as myself, but I cannot do this. I am willing to but I don't have what is needed to do this job. Companies like Orbital Sciences, Boeing and SpaceX can do this eventually. I would like to see them do this

Jason Davis: 02/15/2014 02:07 CST

The question of whether Orion and SLS represent 1) the future of human spaceflight or 2) a complete mess that could destroy NASA's human spaceflight program is complex. Every time I've tried to write that story, I've been quickly overwhelmed at the sheer number of factors involved that led to where we are right now. It's a question that needs to be answered, and it deserves 10,000+ well-sourced words in a national publication (or better yet, a documentary film or book). It's an emotionally charged topic. We're talking about the future of humans in space, and whether or not we will see humans walk on Mars during our lifetimes. The reason I've never been able to tackle it is that I think any critical look at Orion and SLS has to dig deep into the relationship between NASA and Congress. And, as mentioned, there's the whole commercial spaceflight angle as well.

Telluric: 02/15/2014 09:17 CST

Jason, thanks. the article is timely and relevant to planetary science because SLS & Orion are impacting the whole budget. One could say, the future of humanity beyond Earth is written in the stars. Humanity will go beyond Earth. The real question, as you say, is whether another generation will not see humans reach Mars or realize the discovery of life beyond Earth. There are much bigger issues involving government that present generations must fix. This problem is simpler. NASA cannot revert back to building Saturn-like vehicles. NASA needs to recognize the future of commercial space now and take a low cost ride on the alternatives to SLS and Orion. The 'Greatest Generation' will not see it (they did enough). The Korean War generation, all the Apollo astronauts won't. Time is whittling away on the baby boomers. Space travel will happen, the mysteries of the Universe will be revealed. The question is whether the present generations will be part of a bad chapter in the NASA story.

Arbitrary: 02/16/2014 05:25 CST

SLS & Orion are more ambitious than any private projects. They are important components in a Mars mission. Thanks to them we will be ready to develop the rest in order to go to Mars in the 2020s if the political will comes. And of course its cost efficiency is lousy, it's a government program! Here's a very recent 2h radio interview with Mark Bray who works with the SLS and now has political ambitions as an independent: http://www.thespaceshow.com/detail.asp?q=2185

Telluric: 02/16/2014 03:06 CST

To commenter Arbitrary. Thanks for pointing out this audio program; an even-handed discussion. Bray is doing what he learned to do - material engineering, and doing what the government instructs him to do. That paraphrases his own words. The discussion does not state that SLS/Orion are more ambitious than private; it is not. The host and Bray discuss that if the government wasn't so wasteful, then NASA having its own private vehicles would be affordable. This is an argument that has gotten government waste to the present circumstances. I believe NASA has sufficient funding although I wish they had a $billion more. SLS/Orion is not enough and not the only means to reach Mars. SpaceX wants to go to Mars and other things and low and behold, their commercial vehicles can just as readily be adapted by NASA for Mars missions and save NASA funds, taxpayer money. The discussion echoes my thoughts such as NASA (1/2 of 1 %) is a small problem. But every $100M needs to be treated respectfully. A $100M here, $100M there and suddenly you have real money. NASA engineers can do great things with such "small sums". Humans won't be sent to Mars in the 2020s with SLS/Orion. We might with cost effective commercial that frees up funds to construct hardware to sustain humans on long-duration flights and to land/takeoff from the surface of Mars.

Bob Ware: 02/16/2014 05:05 CST

If a documentary is done at then at the very least it should contain questioning alone the lines of: 1) work sharing between Congressional Districts that have NASA Centers and Contractors in them with other districts that do not have these Centers and contractors -- this disparity can or does cause political friction which hurts needed votes -- 2) a look at the future for mankind by this venture -- 3) global cooperation of component work and crew assignment and how mankind can benefit immediately -- 4) a reminder of how eliminating poverty first, which was tried in the late 60's, was the main spear to shutdown APOLLO, failed. (LBJ's War On Poverty) Unfortunately poverty will always be present. Sure that's bad but it cannot be eliminated as the world operates today. These points, The Sore Points, as I call them, are always present when budget or project ideas for NASA come up, need to be addressed and some how fixed. Other questions need to be added and others I'm sure will have their own questions as equally important.

M. Agost GB: 02/16/2014 05:47 CST

Hello On Saturday 23.11.13, in the beach of Costa del Este, Buenos Aires, Argentina, at 20:35 approximately, after see the ISS, my father and I, we direct our eyes to the SE, and approximately 40° of the horizon, appeared a reddish burst, which turned 180º to the left, then 180° to the right, and then, it became a reddish point as the Betelgeuse star, but, vibrating. Finally, a fixed point. Lapse: 7 seconds. What you think that was? Thanks

Tony Mach: 02/17/2014 03:16 CST

Everytime I read something cheerful about SLS/Orion, I can't help to think what a waste of resources this whole endeavorer is going to be… Now if this was a little bit waste of resources, I would say, oh well, shucks. But I do have to turn to the writing John Strickland on TheSpaceReview – just recently he again wrote about costs of SLS and compared them to a hypothetical Falcon "XX" – and I think SLS/Orion will be a quite elaborate waste of money. Or to be more precise, the money will not be wasted, it will be given to the large aerospace companies for not much in exchange. A Dragon capsule capable of deep space operations may be slightly less comfortable, but a heck of a lot cheaper. But it needn't be SpaceX, there are other players who as well want to actually go to space (and don't have exploiting public funding as their primary mode of operation): as a space-fan I fail to understand why there isn't a competition like for the commercial crew program. Everything seem to be big in "America" – or rather in the USA – and so it seems that US congress is aiming for a very big failure with this giant pork barrel. As a space fan, I won't cheer for that, and I fail to understand that advocates for space exploration in full possession of their senses would write cheerful articles about a pork barrel that will hurt the space community for decades. Now as a human being I must add that I doubt that the USA will be able to keep up the current insane level of military spending (and imperial dominance in the world) for much longer and will have to adjust the level of federal spending rather sooner than later. I would prefer such a transition to happen gradually (not only in the interests of the people of the USA), but seeing how the USA are willfully ignorant of their position in the world, the SLS/Orion pork barrel will bring us this day of reckoning a mighty bit quicker – personally I just hope I am far away when this happens.

Arbitrary: 02/17/2014 11:43 CST

SLS+Orion is a gadget project without mission. But once it's ready it will present important parts of the capability to go to for example Mars. The costs are insignificant on the scale of the federal budget anyway. Any obscure political whim would fund a Mars mission based on it, once it is operating. No congressman has time to consider a cost saving of a puny 50% on a thousandth of the yearly federal budget. Cost efficiency is politically irrelevant on this scale. The infighting among space exploration enthusiasts is damaging to us all. The SLS won't outcompete commercial rocketry, it's in a different niche. The alternative to SLS would not more commercial - it would nothing! So be happy that it is happening. I want it to go to Mars, but I won't critizise those who prefer the Moon, that'd be great too. Just get going somewhere at last. @ Telluric: 02/16/2014 03:06 CST Yes, that was a good episode. The quality of that spaceshow podcast is totally dependent on the guest. Most are worthless, a few are great. Search it for interesting guests, that's the way to use it.

Bob Ware: 02/23/2014 10:36 CST

@ M. Agost GB -- This is what you saw: Expedition 38 began with the undocking of Soyuz TMA-09M in Nov. 2013. Three new crew members arrived aboard Soyuz TMA-11M in Nov. 2013. WWW.NASA.GOV

Bob Ware: 02/25/2014 09:06 CST

This is a letter I wrote back on 07/31/2009. I just found it when I was purging older files to free up storage: 31 July 2009 Hello Staff, I have just read Dr. Wes Huntress' letter which is posted on, The Planetary Societys' website, www.Planetary.org. I agree with his assessments since they are on target. If you have not read his letter please do so. The last time a Commission was held it led towards the Constellation programs eventual development. The only problem I see here, which is a point Dr. Huntress stated in his letter, is that the vehicle I envisioned to replace the Orbiter is not being built for that need. I submitted this idea to the Augustine Commission back in their public comment period a few years ago. I proposed an Interplanetary Cruiser which would be built so that only the interior would need to be modified for the needs of a specific mission plan. For example, Orion would have an interchangeable interior plan for a Lunar mission, a Mars mission, a space station mission and an asteroid mission. Those are just examples of interiors that the spacecraft could be internally modified for. The Service Module concept and would remain at a maximum design and fueled accordingly. As for the spacecraft a smaller crew with three or four Orion spacecraft could make a Mars mission possible since more payload could be cargoed in the spacecraft in addition to the Ares V. end part 1

Bob Ware: 02/25/2014 09:08 CST

part 2 Please do not fail to see the approach to this in designing Orion. Currently (the last time I saw on NASA’s website) NASA is going to build a “smaller” Orion and the “larger” Orion will be built later. As I see it, this defeats my Interplanetary Cruiser plan and it hinders spacecraft construction and number of spacecraft to be built by having to have two production lines. At some point for cost concerns I can see NASA having to cut back on production of the larger model and going to the smaller of the two. It is far better to reduce crew size on a larger spacecraft when needed than to switch from spacecraft to spacecraft. Not to forget, the skirt or adapter changes so the needed spacecraft can fit the launch vehicle Ares 1.

Zorbonian: 03/03/2014 03:41 CST

Hi BWare - good to see you here. Our entire way of thinking about space travel for going beyond earth orbit is so outdated, it's so 20th century. These bigger and bigger rockets for ferrying people just won't cut it. The payloads need to be smaller, and the vehicles assembled in space. Until we get to that point (which we definitely should have been by now), what we are doing is a waste of both time and money. It's kind of sad that the powers that be don't quite get it.

Zorbonian: 03/03/2014 04:01 CST

To get into space, or to get back to earth from space (for people), have small crafts that ferry people back and forth - something like the Virgin Galactic space planes. These would go to the actual, much, MUCH larger spacecraft that goes on the deep space missions. It may be a little harder than rocket science ;-) , since it would probably require some innovative "space assembly" engineering to put the ship's components together, but it would be worth it, unless we just want to pretty much stand still from a technological viewpoint when it comes to interplanetary travel. Yes, it might cost a bit - but a lot less than that ridiculous $1.5 trillion fighter jet program that just about any other country already has the specs for since the military keeps everything online anyway (military intelligence LOL).

Bob Ware: 03/19/2014 08:57 CDT

Hi Z! : ) Glad to see you are still here also! Well basically you and I still think alike with 'build it in orbit since that is what needs to be done.' Either the tunnel door is closed or the future is really that dark. I'm afraid to take a guess...

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