NASA's goal is to return to the moon by 2024 and begin long-term lunar exploration by 2028. Before the next spacecraft can launch, it will undergo tests to make sure it can handle an upcoming mission.
(TNS) — When NASA's Orion crew capsule arrives for testing in Ohio, it will finally use the long-planned-for "Space Corridor."
Eight State Highway Patrol troopers and a small army of bucket trucks, flaggers dotting the railroad crossings, escort vehicles and chase cars will precede the newest NASA space vehicle.
"We'll try not to disturb anyone as much as possible. ... We'll try to get through there as quickly as we can so everyone can go back to their lives," said Nicole Smith, project manager for the Artemis 1 testing center at NASA John H. Glenn Research Center's Plum Brook Station in Sandusky.
Although every effort has been made to ensure that the move is orchestrated with precision, that might be a bit of a challenge.
NASA's goal is to return to the moon by 2024 and begin long-term lunar exploration by 2028 with the hope of continuing on to Mars. Before the Orion spacecraft can launch, it will undergo numerous tests to make sure it can handle the upcoming Artemis 1 mission.
At Plum Brook, Orion will undergo a few months of testing in the world's largest thermal vacuum chamber there. It just has to get there first.
The capsule is being flown from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport on a wide cargo plane — NASA's Aero Spacelines Super Guppy — designed to transport oversized cargo loads.
Why fly the capsule to Mansfield instead of Sandusky?
"We had to find an airport with a very long runway," Smith said.
It turns out that Mansfield Lahm, located three miles north of Mansfield, has a runway that is 9,001 feet long and 150 feet wide and is used by the Ohio Air National Guard's 179th Airlift Wing based there. Sandusky's airport runway fell short.
Cleveland and Toledo were out of the running because, after arriving at those airports, Orion would have had to find a way under or around overpasses between there and Plum Brook — too difficult to contemplate.
What followed next was a $6 million project — with Ohio paying $2.5 million and NASA paying the rest — to create the Space Corridor to transport the capsule to Sandusky.
When Orion does arrive in Mansfield, it will be hard to miss. When loaded on its side on a flatbed trailer, is more than 22 feet tall and about 20 feet across.
"(Orion) is very, very big, even laying down," Smith said.
The sheer size of the 60,000-pound load will create a rolling road block as it travels about 43 miles through northern Ohio communities at a maximum speed of about 25 mph. Officials aren't ready to disclose the exact route yet, citing security.
The capsule is expected to arrive in mid-November, based on the latest estimates.
After Orion gets to Mansfield, crews will be poised to dismantle traffic lights just ahead of the caravan including the capsule and then to reassemble the wiring after it has passed.
The Ohio Department of Transportation had to sign off on the route for the capsule to travel on and always issues permits for wide loads.
"ODOT has a role in making sure that the routing is proper for them. Because, again, we don't want things to get stuck," said Matt Bruning, an ODOT spokesman. He said engineers were approached by NASA to start planning in 2015.
More than 600 utility poles had to be moved and replaced so the truck carrying Orion can pass without snagging electrical and broadband wires.
FirstEnergy spent about a year replacing more than 300 power poles of its 45-foot standard length to 55-foot poles. Typically, the lowest wires are placed about 15 feet from the bottom. Wires had to be raised on the new poles to 23 feet.
"The last thing we wanted was, you know, being blamed for any delays, because we hadn't moved our equipment in a timely manner," said Mark Durbin, a spokesman for FirstEnergy. "So we worked very closely with NASA. We're very proud of being able to be involved in a project like this."
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