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.