Oklahoma Company Helps Build NASA Spacecraft
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - NASA hasn't launched astronauts from American soil since it retired its space shuttle program in 2011.
But that will soon change with a new space program designed to send astronauts back to the moon and beyond. And they couldn't get there without the help from companies right here in Oklahoma.
NASA's newest spacecraft, Orion, is still in its testing phases including an unmanned orbit 3,600 miles above earth in 2014. But soon, it's greater mission will be to launch astronauts with the most powerful rocket ever built to places farther than any human has ever gone before; deep space.
“That's the next grand frontier, and no telling what we'll discover when we're out there,” said Orion Deputy Program Manager Charlie Lundquist.
NASA has spent the past several years perfecting the Orion capsule to carry astronauts on long-duration space flights. News On 6 traveled to Johnson Space Center in Houston to see a mock-up of the spacecraft.
“deep space, the vacuum of space, intense radiation. You gotta protect the astronauts that are inside. The further you get away from earth the more autonomous things need to be.” Said Lundquist.
The federal agency is depending on companies around the globe to help complete that mission and Oklahoma's own are answering the call.
“We have the nation’s best and brightest building part of the spacecraft,” said Lundquist.
“It's our belief that it's gotta work right the first time, every time,” said FES Aerospace Program Manager Waylon Shields.
At Frontier Electronic Systems in Stillwater, engineers designed some of the most critical systems onboard Orion.
“Going to the moon or to mars is going to take several months even years to get there and back,” said FES Programs and Engineering Manager Mike Ridgway.
Using high tech automation, the company builds the electronics for the capsule's life support systems. Workers assemble some of those circuit boards by hand. The company also made the hand controllers astronauts will use to guide the capsule.
“Everybody here puts everything they have into making sure things are done perfectly,” said Shields.
The power protection units will be used on the launch abort system, which propels the astronauts to safety if a rocket fails.
The parts are analyzed on site using a thermal vacuum chamber
“It will emulate a space environment. Pull vacuum where there's no air and then we can also introduce the temperature radiance to very cold to very hot,” said Darryl Smith. “If the electronics survive then the astronauts survive.”
Once they pass the test, Frontier ships the parts to NASA. Taking humans on deep space explorations aboard a spacecraft Oklahomans help build makes the workers at FES proud.
“I think the employees all take a real sense of pride in knowing how important their work is,” said Ridgway.
“One of the sayings around here is 'the road to Mars goes through Stillwater, Oklahoma’,” said Shields.
One more unmanned flight is expected to blast off by 2020 and an actual crew by 2024.