Crews prepared the PA-1 crew module for transport to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., where it will be displayed at the launch of the final space shuttle mission. (NASA Photo / Carla Thomas)
› View Larger Image The Pad Abort-1 crew module began its journey from Dryden June 14 to the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., for display at the July 8 scheduled launch of Atlantis, the final flight of the space shuttle program.
For weeks, employees here have been handling checklist items such as lifting and installing the forward bay cover on the crew module and securing avionics pallets and crew module panels. Lifting and loading of the crew module onto the trailer to transport it across the country was completed earlier in the week
For four years, Dryden's Orion crew module abort flight test team worked toward a successful research flight that went flawlessly at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on May 6, 2010. The crew module reached an altitude of one mile and attained speeds exceeding 500 mph.
The team faced challenges daily as members spent weeks and months away from their families during the 10 months leading up to the launch. "You will never take all of the risk out of spaceflight, but teams like ours try to greatly reduce it," said former Dryden Exploration Mission Director Brent Cobleigh.
The use of a system like the one demonstrated at White Sands can decrease the odds of losing a crew in the Orion spacecraft from 1 in 559 to one in 1,877 during the launch phase of the mission, Cobleigh said.
During a recent awards ceremony at Dryden to recognize the achievements of Dryden team members, NASA's former Orion project manager, Mark Geyer, said of the crew escape system's function during the test flight at White Sands, "If it [the White Sands launch] had been a launch where the system was needed, we would have saved lives."
As a result of changes made at the main gates to Edwards Air Force Base, the route by which the PA-1 crew module traveled was across Rogers Dry Lake, through the shuttle viewing area and out Rocket Site Road. (NASA Photo / Carla Thomas)
› View Larger Image Dryden Center Director David McBride said regardless of the direction of the agency's space program, the team's work on the launch abort system is "the shape of things to come" and the system will have a valued role in the safety of future space travelers.
Johnson Space Center, Houston, was the lead partner in the multi-center effort that also included Kennedy Space Center, Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, and industry partner Lockheed Martin.
Cathy Bahm, Dryden abort flight test deputy project manager, said Dryden's work included aspects of testing, from test and validation efforts to integration work, including work with Lockheed Martin avionics. She also detailed development of a Mobile Operations Center from one housed in an empty trailer into the command center used at the White Sands launch.
Matt Redifer, Dryden crew module integrated product team lead, said the team faced several challenges, including fixing broken equipment, altering structural loads on the vehicle as understanding of the flight environment improved, working around cultural differences among project partners and project flight reviews and processes.
Also included in the long list of tasks was design and installation of 683 sensors, which were divided into 403 sensors for the launch abort system and 280 for the crew module.
David McAllister, abort flight test operations lead, said the team's flexibility was a key reason that the launch was a success despite whatever adversity greeted team members at the beginning of each day.
Team members agreed that the great sacrifices leading to the flawless flight will lead to the crew module abort system's use on a future spacecraft. Use of the system, team members said, will mark another great day for NASA and the nation in the effort to protect the people that are sent to space.