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By Bob Granath,
NASA Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
On the third anniversary of President Obama's visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where he set his space exploration vision for the future, news media representatives were given an opportunity to see up close the Orion spacecraft that could take astronauts on an asteroid sampling mission as early as 2021.
Key leaders from across the agency shared progress being made on the spacecraft and infrastructure that will send humans to the asteroid, and eventually to Mars. Orion currently is being prepared in Kennedy's Operations and Checkout Building (O&C) for its first flight test, Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1, in 2014.
"Three years ago today, the president was here in an empty high bay challenging us to go to an asteroid by 2025," said Bob Cabana, Kennedy director. "Today, this is a world-class production facility with a flight vehicle, Orion, getting ready to fly next year. We've made tremendous progress in our transition to the future."
Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development; Mark Geyer, Orion program manager; Keith Hefner, Space Launch System program planning and control manager; and Scott Colloredo, chief architect for the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program, also discussed progress being made on final assembly and integration of Orion for the uncrewed flight test that will see the vehicle travel farther into space than any human spacecraft has gone in more than 30 years. The main objective of EFT-1 is to test Orion's heat shield at the high speeds generated during a return from deep space.
"What you see behind us is an example of that wonderful progress that has been made by the Orion team," said Dumbacher. "There is also great progress by the Space Launch System team getting the launch vehicle ready."
The president's Fiscal Year 2014 budget request for NASA provides funding for an initiative to robotically capture an asteroid and redirect it to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Astronauts then would launch in Orion aboard a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to collect samples of and explore the relocated asteroid.
Designed to expand human presence and enable exploration of new destinations in the solar system, Orion and SLS are part of the president's goal to reach beyond where anyone has gone before.
"I believe it's more important to ramp up our capabilities to reach - and operate at - a series of increasingly demanding targets, while advancing our technological capabilities with each step forward," Obama said in his 2010 address at Kennedy. "And that's what this strategy does. And that's how we will ensure that our leadership in space is even stronger in this new century than it was in the last."
All of the Orion subsystems and components created around the country are coming together in the O&C. In the near future, the production team will apply heat-shielding thermal protection systems, avionics and other hardware to the spacecraft.
NASA's SLS, a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, will boost Orion off the planet on a flight test in 2017. It is designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions.
"We are thrilled with this mission," Dumbacher said. "We're looking forward to it. It will be a challenge, it will be complex. But NASA's up to the challenge and the team you see represented here is ready and willing to take it on."
The president's proposal is the first step in the budget process with Congress offering its own suggestions during the next few months. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
During the president's 2010 address at Kennedy, he spoke of the value of NASA's work.
"For pennies on the dollar, the space program has fueled jobs and entire industries," he said. "For pennies on the dollar, the space program has improved our lives, advanced our society, strengthened our economy, and inspired generations of Americans."