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HOUSTON — In July 2011, Carthage College students Amber Bakkum and Steven Mathe watched Atlantis STS-135 thunder into orbit, witnessing the historic final launch of the American space shuttle program.
On Monday, they climbed into the future of American space exploration.
Bakkum, Mathe and other members of the Carthage Microgravity Team got a sneak peek at the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle during an exclusive tour of Lockheed Martin’s Exploration Development Lab.
“I think it was an honor and a privilege to see the end of an era and the beginning of an era all in the same year,” said Amber Bakkum, a senior from Winthrop Harbor, Ill.
Orion, being developed by Lockheed Martin for NASA, is billed as the next generation of manned spacecraft. It includes a crew module for up to four astronauts, a service module providing in-space propulsion for orbital transfer, and a launch abort system that would allow for a safe landing even in a launch emergency. Originally part of NASA’s now-canceled Constellation Program, Orion is central to NASA’s plans to explore beyond low Earth orbit and into deep space. A test flight is planned for late 2013.
“This vehicle is designed to follow the shuttle into space,” said Larry Price, deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin. “The shuttle was a marvelous machine, but it’s a quarter of a million pounds, so it’s very heavy. It takes a lot of energy to get it out of Earth’s orbit. … The idea behind Orion is to make it as small and light as possible. … Orion allows for missions deeper into the solar system than we have ever gone before.”
The Carthage team was invited to the lab by Jonathan Braun, mechanical engineer of propulsion analysis with Lockheed Martin. Braun worked with the 2010 Carthage Microgravity Team on the project studying propellant slosh in Orion.
While in Lockheed Martin’s lab, students sat inside crew simulation mockups used to evaluate Orion’s instrument placement and displays.
“The space shuttle is my generation,” Lockheed Martin’s senior manager for business development Joe Mayer said to the students. “Apollo was my parents’ generation. Orion is your generation.”
Carthage students continued their tours on Tuesday, visiting facilities at Johnson Space Center, where they saw the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, Mission Control for the International Space Station, and the historic Apollo Mission Control Center.
Seeing the command center for the Apollo missions, including Apollo 13, was a highlight for John Robinson, a junior from Kenosha.
“We were seeing all this history just coming together,” he said. “It was very cool to be there.”
Kevin Lubick, a junior from DeForest, agreed.
“I go about my day-to-day life and I forget that we have people in space doing this incredible scientific research,” said Lubick. “Being in the Mission Control Center reminded me that we’re pretty darn cool as far as a species goes.”
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