Your First Look

Here’s a look at the full-size mockup of NASA’s Orion crew exploration vehicle being tested in the water off the coast of Maryland. This mock-up weighs 18,000 pounds and will help the teams get a good idea of what happens both inside and outside the spacecraft after it lands in the ocean.


This scene shows NASA and Department of Defense personnel familiarizing themselves with the Navy-built Orion mockup in a test pool at the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Md. Ocean testing will begin April 6 off the coast of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The goal of the operation, dubbed the Post-landing Orion Recovery Test, or PORT, is to determine what kind of motions the astronaut crew can expect after landing, as well as conditions outside for the recovery team. The experience will help NASA design landing recovery operations including equipment, ship and crew necessities.


NASA also will showcase the mockup in a day-long public event March 30 on the National Mall in Washington. The mockup of the Orion will be parked on the Mall between 4th and 7th Streets, SW, in front of the National Air and Space Museum. The spacecraft mockup is on its way from water testing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center to open water testing in the Atlantic off the coast of the Kennedy Space Center.



A Rocket's Coat of Many Colors

Why are the Ares rockets different colors on the top and bottom? Why do some rockets like the Saturn have black and white strips resembling a checkerboard? The answer to these questions may be as simple as determining what type of material a rocket is made of, or you might be surprised to learn that some of these markings assist in the successful launch of a vehicle. If you look back to the early prototypes of the V2 rockets designed by the German rocket scientists that were painted in the familiar black-and-white roll pattern scheme. This scheme was designed to aid in tracking the rocket after launch. The pattern made it easy to observe any variation or roll of the rocket, based on what colors were visible from a particular angle on the ground. Today’s vehicles can be accompanied by a detailed document called the External Vehicle Markings (EVM) Document. This manual contains everything you might need to know regarding location, size and colorings of various logos and markings on a vehicle. The markings on a rocket may change over its lifetime as the design matures, so these changes are documented in the EVM to ensure consistency. With each new variation in a rocket’s design, the pattern is examined and altered as warranted to meet new flight objectives. The Saturn V for example had a series of black markings on all three sections, or stages, of the rocket. During launch as each stage separated engineers were able to use the markings on the next stage to track the vehicle. The shuttle was designed to look more like a plane so there was no need for markings to determine its roll. However NASA’s first two orbiter test flights–STS-1 and STS-2–did have external tanks that were painted white to protect them from exposure to ultraviolet rays during extended periods on the launch pad. Later it was determined the paint wasn’t vital for tank protection, so painting was abandoned to free up weight – about 600 pounds – for additional payload. All external tanks arrive from the assembly facility are a light tan in color, and can eventually reach a chocolate brown depending on how long it sits on the pad in the sun. NASA’s newest rockets –the Ares launch vehicles – each have their own distinct appearance. The first test vehicle scheduled to fly later this year– the Ares I-X –will have a black “Z-Mark” that wraps around the first-stage solid rocket motor. This marking was added by designers to help engineers determine the orientation and roll of the vehicle during launch and ascent.


Additional markings could be added to the Ares vehicles as the development process continues. So the next time you see a rocket with its funny black, white or orange colorings remember there is probably more to the story than meets the eye. 


Heading Toward White Sands

A full-scale mock-up of NASA’s Orion crew module was loaded into the mouth of a C-17 cargo plane Tuesday and took flight Wednesday morning. The mock-up, referred to as the crew module pathfinder, is headed towards White Sands Missile Range, where it will support NASA’s test of the abort system, called Pad Abort 1.


Designed and fabricated at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., the structure represents the size, outer shape and specific mass characteristics of the Orion crew module.


Scheduled to arrive at White Sands on Friday, March 13, the crew module pathfinder will be used to help prepare for the Pad Abort 1 flight test. Ground crews will practice lifting and stacking the pathfinder on the launch pad, an activity that will prepare them to handle the actual Orion flight test article for Pad Abort 1.


The 90-second flight for Pad Abort 1 will be an important first step toward demonstrating how NASA is building safety into its next generation of spacecraft and will help gather information about how NASA’s newly-developed launch abort system operates in reality. The system will provide a safe escape route for astronauts in the Orion crew capsule if there is a problem on the launch pad or during ascent into low Earth orbit atop the Ares I rocket.



Here’s a picture of the mockup of the Orion launch abort system sitting in front of the Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. It will be there today and tomorrow, and it will then head to Amarillo, Texas, later this weekend. Our teams on the ground tell us there are busloads of school kids and visitors stopping by to see the mockup, so if you are in the Oklahoma City area, stop on by and say hello.