Feature

Emergence of a Marsport the Next Logical Step
10.01.08
 
Altair lunar lander

Concept image of the Altair lunar lander undergoing ground processing. Image credit: NASA
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Excitement is in the air at Kennedy Space Center as planning gets under way to support NASA's new Constellation Program, the space transportation system for the next generation of explorers. Kennedy will take the lead in ground operations, as well as launch and recovery operations for the initiative.

Kennedy's focus for its next 50 years is to establish "a program to develop a sustained human presence on the moon, including a robust precursor program to promote exploration, science, commerce and U.S. preeminence in space, and as a stepping stone to future exploration of Mars and other destinations," as described in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005.

Elements of the project will undergo processing at Kennedy, including the Ares I crew launch vehicle, the Ares V heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Orion crew exploration vehicle and the Altair lunar lander. Apollo and shuttle heritage facilities and hardware will provide the foundation.

NASA's goal is to develop and fly Orion by 2015 and return to the moon by 2020. A sustained human presence on the moon eventually will lead to a lunar outpost and pave the way for future human and robotic missions to Mars and other destinations.

"I am 100 percent convinced that we will go to Mars some day," said Shawn Quinn, future elements manager for the Constellation Project Office at Kennedy. "We are already developing detailed flight and ground operations concepts to support the lunar phase of the Constellation Program. While the initial focus for this effort is focused on lunar missions, applicability to future Mars missions is considered in the evaluation of different architectures. Eventually, what we are doing to return humans to the moon will be used for the first human missions to Mars."

The Space Station Processing Facility will be called into service for off-line processing of Altair.

The Vehicle Assembly Building high bays will support mating of Orion to the Ares I rocket, as well as integration of Altair onto the Ares V.

New mobile launchers will be built for the Ares I, but the existing shuttle launch platforms - the same ones used during the Apollo Program - may be modified to support the Ares V.

Changes to Launch Pad 39B have already begun to support the test of the Ares I-X in 2009.

Pad 39A will go through a metamorphosis of its own to support Ares V launch operations after the last shuttle liftoff. Modifications to Pad A will include demolition of the existing shuttle fixed and rotating service structures, as well as adding additional cryogenic storage capacity required by the Ares V. A new flame deflector also is planned to be built.

As the first steps are taken to transform Kennedy into a true Marsport to support NASA's next 50 years, Griffin expressed the dreams of employees across the agency, "I believe that we will, one day, find a civilization on Mars. Ours."
 
 
Kay Grinter
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center