The Orion spacecraft pressure vessel, meant to carry humans to Mars, was ferried to Florida in the belly of a chrome-colored leviathan. Not one of the seas, but one of the skies.
NASA’s Super Guppy is a hulking aircraft. Its cargo compartment measures 25 ft tall, 25 ft wide, and 111 ft long. It’s capable of carrying over 26 tons, and towards the front, the plane hinges open more than 200 degrees, allowing the loading and unloading of cargo from the front.
The Orion spacecraft pressure vessel arrived yesterday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, where it was undergoing welding work. From the Kennedy Space Center, it was transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay, where NASA and Lockheed Martin (Orion’s manufacturer) will add systems and subsystems necessary for flight, including the heat-shielding thermal protection system.
NASA originally acquired the Super Guppy aircraft from the European Space Agency, and developed the first aircraft in 1962. Since then, they’ve used it during various space programs, including Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab. It’s also been used to transport various spacecraft components and equipment, including the parts needed to create the International Space Station.
Orion is prepping for a test flight aboard NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which is scheduled for 2018. According to NASA, “On the first flight, SLS will launch the Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon to demonstrate the integrated system performance of Orion and the SLS rocket prior to the first crewed flight.”