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Retired Apollo Engineer Sees Orion Future
June 6, 2012


The last time James Murphy set foot inside the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the high bay gleamed from polished white floors and walls and teemed with spacecraft destined for the moon being processed for flight.

After 40 years, that description still fits as Murphy and his family were given a VIP tour through the facility that now serves as Lockheed Martin's factory floor for the Orion spacecraft being prepped for a new generation of deep space journeys.

"White is bright," Murphy said while looking over the fixture holding the ground test article of the Orion spacecraft. "It looks very familiar, but of course there aren't any of the other spacecraft in here these days, which is what I remember. The command module looks very similar. We had the lunar module and Saturn lunar module adapter."

Between serving as an assembly area for capsules and service modules, the high bay was used as the preparation area for space shuttle modules, including the SpaceLabs that astronauts worked in while in orbit.

Lockheed Martin renovated the vast assembly hall in 2009 so it could be used to build the Orion spacecraft. Workers pulled out antiquated cables, electrical gear and pipes and recoated the walls and floor to make a suitable area to build a spacecraft to take astronauts to deep space locales.

Two altitude chambers are still in place, though only one is working. The massive cylindrical chambers were constructed large enough to hold Apollo spacecraft to test for leaks. They were also used for leak checks of International Space Station modules such as the Destiny laboratory.

"These guys laid all the ground work for us," said Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin's senior manager for Orion Assembly, Integration and Production. "They didn't have a guidebook. They thought they were doing the right thing, but they had no way of knowing if they were doing the right thing."

Murphy worked for AC Delco on the navigation systems used in the Apollo spacecraft. He worked on Apollos 8 through 14 in different capacities during his two years at Kennedy.

"It seems like a long time but some of these things are like they happened yesterday," Murphy said. "I felt very fortunate to be here to begin with. Not thinking I would ever get there, but hoping I would."

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James Murphy
James Murphy, center, listens as Lockheed Martin's Jules Schneider explains some of the work going into preparing an Orion spacecraft for a mission. The retired engineer worked in the Operations and Checkout Building working on Apollo capsules and returned to the facility at NASA's KSC.
Image Credit: 
NASA/Glenn Benson
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