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Orion returns home to Kennedy Space Center

Technicians removed Orion's heat shield in February. Photo by Amy Green

Technicians removed Orion's heat shield in February. Photo by Amy Green

NASA’s new spacecraft is back home at Kennedy Space Center after its first test flight earlier this month.

The next step now is to understand all of the data Orion gathered during its two orbits around Earth, and that will take years.

After rocketing 3,600 miles into space, and a cross-country trek, the capsule arrived back at Kennedy Space Center looking scorched and battered but otherwise in good condition.

A convoy trucked the capsule from Naval Base San Diego, where it was retrieved after splashing down Dec. 5. NASA’s Louie Garcia was part of the convoy.

“And a lot of times going down back roads we would say to ourselves I wonder if people know we have a $350 million spacecraft in here going right by their neighborhood.”

Garcia says for security reasons the convoy took back roads for most of the trip. Few knew Orion’s route except for some hotel receptionists and curious onlookers at truck stops.

Jules Schneider of Lockheed Martin says the heat shield performed well despite some concerns it might crack. Technicians already have taken samples and plan to remove the heat shield in February for further examination.

“Because the vehicle performed so well there are some people rethinking how much we want to disassemble and how much we want to keep assembled so that we can use it going forward on the ground of course, for testing, etc.”

Technicians also will remove Orion’s outer panels to expose its cabling, fluid lines and propulsion system. The goal is to improve its design before its next test flight in 2018.

Orion is designed for deep space exploration. Eventually NASA wants to send astronauts to an asteroid and Mars.


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Amy Green

About Amy Green

Reporter and Producer

Amy Green covers the environment and climate change at WMFE News. She is an award-winning journalist and author whose extensive reporting on the Everglades is featured in the book MOVING WATER, published by Johns Hopkins University Press, and podcast DRAINED, available wherever you get your podcasts. Amy’s ... Read Full Bio »