The new Orion capsule will be the next spacecraft to carry humans beyond Earth's orbit, something that has not been done since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Orion will replace the Space Shuttle which was not designed to operate in deep space, but was a serviceable vehicle for low Earth orbit.
NASA says they will now turn over low Earth orbit missions to private enterprises like SpaceX, so they can concentrate on deep space missions.
From the first test flight of Orion, to the return of manned moon missions, to the first human on Mars and beyond, it all starts with companies like EnerSys in Longmont, Colorado. EnerSys is one of 250 Colorado businesses working on the Orion Spacecraft.
“To think that we could be part of something for generations to come to be talking about, something that’s going to expand the horizons of human history, it’s humbling to be honest," said Mark Matthews, vice president of EnerSys Advanced Systems.
EnerSys builds Lithium Ion batteries that will power critical systems on Orion, like the Launch Abort System. That is the mechanism designed to carry the crew away from the rocket in the case of an emergency during launch.
“If the batteries fail, the system fails. So every element, every screw, every bolt, every thrust, every motor is critical to be successful and there’s just no room for failure,” said Matthews.
On Monday, officials from NASA and Lockheed Martin toured EnerSys in Longmont and also SEAKR Engineering in Centennial, which builds computer systems for Orion.
NASA Astronaut Nicole Mann will likely be assigned to one of the future Orion missions, and was on Monday's tour. She got a chance to thank some of those Colorado employees for their hard work on this spacecraft.
“And a lot of that is not done by a machine, it’s not automated, it is a human being that is actually making those welds, and that’s doing this testing, and that really critical to the success of this mission,” said Mann.
Mann told the staff at EnerSys that her life will literally be in their hands when she blasts off into space.
“You know they’re building this battery that we want to work really well, that we never want to work right? We never want the Launch Abort System to actually fire, and have to pull me away from an exploding rocket or something that’s going wrong, but God forbid that it happened one day, then we have the reliability and we have the faith in the company that they are going to build the batteries that we need,” said Mann.
During the tour at EnerSys, big news broke in Washington. The President signed Space Policy Directive - 1, directing NASA to work with international and commercial partners to return humans to the moon.
Before that announcement, the plan was to have Orion launch an un-manned mission in 2019, to orbit the moon, and then a manned mission to orbit the moon and deliver the first component of the Deep Space Gateway in 2023. There was no initial detail in President Trumps new directive that would accelerate the timeline of that plan.