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NASA awards contract for moon craft

Aug. 31, 2006
Special to World Science  

NASA on Thurs­day awarded Lock­heed Mar­tin Corp. a multi­bil­lion dol­lar con­tract to build a manned lu­nar space­craft, agen­cy of­fi­cials an­nounced.

The Orion craft in an artist's conception. (Courtesy NASA)


The space agen­cy chose Lock­heed Mar­tin, the big­gest gov­ern­ment aer­o­space con­tractor, to build the Ori­on crew ex­plo­ra­tion ve­hi­cle. The craft is in­tend­ed to re­place the space shut­tles and take as­tro­nauts to the moon and per­haps Mars or an as­ter­oid.

NASA’s chief has de­scribed the en­vi­sioned craft as ‘‘Apollo on steroid­s,’’ ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­at­ed Press. But Lock­heed Mar­tin has­n’t built manned space­craft be­fore.

‘‘NASA de­cid­ed to do some­thing dif­fer­ent and go with a com­pa­ny that has not been in manned space be­fore, sort of spread­ing the wealth and mak­ing sure they’ve got two con­tractors that know the manned space busi­ness,’’ aer­o­space in­dus­try an­a­lyst Paul Nis­bet, pres­ident of JSA Re­search, told the news agen­cy.

Lockheed has built un­manned craft suc­cess­ful­ly, and also once di­sas­trous­ly, when a mix­up between En­glish and me­tric mea­sure­ments made its 1999 Mars Cli­mate Or­bi­ter crash. 

“The Ori­on crew cap­sule will car­ry as­tro­nauts back to the moon and lat­er to Mars. The first flight with as­tro­nauts aboard is planned for no lat­er than 2014. Ori­on’s first flight to the moon is planned for no lat­er than 2020,” NASA said in a state­ment.

“Our in­tent is to keep the des­ti­na­tion fo­cus­ing the de­sign but we are not ex­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of us­ing Ori­on for oth­er things, such as de-orbiting the Hub­ble Space Tel­e­scope in the 2020s or mak­ing a trek to an as­ter­oid,” said Jeff Han­ley, who man­ages the Con­stel­la­tion Pro­gram from the John­son Space Cen­ter in Hous­ton.

The con­tract was open-end­ed, al­low­ing NASA the ul­ti­mate de­ci­sion on re­us­a­bil­i­ty of Ori­on and land­ing sites. It is val­ued at about $3.9 bil­lion for de­sign, de­vel­op­ment, test­ing and eval­u­a­tion of the new space­craft, NASA of­fi­cials said. Ad­di­tion­al con­tract op­tions are worth more than $4 bil­lion through 2019.

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NASA on Thursday awarded Lockheed Martin Corp.a multibillion dollar contract to build a manned lunar spacecraft, agency officials announced.

The space agency chose Lockheed Martin, the biggest government aerospace contractor, to build the Orion crew exploration vehicle. The craft is intended to replace the space shuttles and take astronauts to the moon and perhaps Mars or an asteroid.

NASA’s chief has described the envisioned craft as ‘‘Apollo on steroids,’’ according to the Associated Press. But Lockheed Martin hasn’t built manned spacecraft before.

‘‘NASA decided to do something different and go with a company that has not been in manned space before, sort of spreading the wealth and making sure they’ve got two contractors that know the manned space business,’’ aerospace industry analyst Paul Nisbet, president of JSA Research, told the news agency.

The contract was very open-ended, allowing NASA the ultimate decision on reusability of Orion and landing sites, according to the Associated Press.

“The Orion crew capsule will carry astronauts back to the moon and later to Mars. The first flight with astronauts aboard is planned for no later than 2014. Orion’s first flight to the moon is planned for no later than 2020,” NASA said in a statement.

“Our intent is to keep the destination focusing the design but we are not excluding the possibility of using Orion for other things, such as de-orbiting the Hubble Space Telescope in the 2020s or making a trek to an asteroid,” said Jeff Hanley, who manages the Constellation Program from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The contract is valued at about $3.9 billion for design, development, testing and evaluation of the new spacecraft, NASA officials said. Additional contract options are worth more than $4 billion through 2019