When you’re little, you think you’re invincible. You think that when you grow up you’ll be a super hero or world-famous. It’s not uncommon to for people to ask questions like: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?' The common answers you’ll hear are: fireman, police officer and astronaut. I was definitely one of those "astronaut kids." Who am I kidding? If you asked me today, at 26 years old, what I would like to be when I’m older, I would still tell you I want to be an astronaut. I’m a space-nerd. I love all things astrophysics, jet propulsion and space shuttles. I’m sure you could imagine my excitement when I was invited out to NASA Marshall in Huntsville Alabama this past February to tour their facilities and get a behind-the-scenes look at the flight hardware for the Orion Stage Adapter!
It was "lit," as the kids call it these days. Grab a seat and a nice cup of tea (or bourbon, if you’re into that).
The first thing we did once we arrived on the grounds was pay a visit to the Payload Integration and Operations Center. Before you ask—yes—it's definitely as cool as it sounds. The payload center is responsible for all of the science carried out on the ISS. There is a constant feed from Houston connecting the crew here at Marshall with the International Space Station so they can continue to carry out their experiments with the appropriate tools and support for the job. It’s a pretty incredible job. Paycom workers are typically in-training to become certified in their positions here for two years before they are given the reins.
Once we left the ISS Building, we made our way to the conference given by acting administrator Robert Lightfoot in regards to the upcoming budget for NASA. His message: return to the moon, but keep an eye on mars. We had the privilege of sitting in the audience during the speech as it was being broadcast via NASA TV. Before the conference, we took some time to check out the Composites Technology Lab with composite engineer Justin Jackson, who gave us the low down on the material used to complete the inner walls of the payload fairing. Then, we got to watch them make one of the panels with one of the most sophisticated robotic arms in the game. It’s 21-feet-high and can move in more ways than a gymnast. The arm is being used to create large scale space structures for the SLS (Space Launch System). This method is ideal for many reasons; primarily decreasing the weight load by 30 percent and decreasing costs by 20 percent. This gives it a significant advantage over other materials such as metal.
Upon leaving the Composites Lab, we took to our next location—which was incredible. We were given the opportunity to see the actual Orion Stage Adapter hardware as it was being built. It doesn’t get much cooler than that, honestly.
On our final endeavor of the day, we paid a visit to the high bay that will be used to test the hardware! We had the opportunity to see the facilities where these articles will be put into rigorous tests that will simulate the same pressure and pulls that they will experience at different stages of lift-off. The facilities were assembled specifically for these items. Once the testing is complete and they’re required to remove the test stands, it will take them 18 months to completely remove everything. How crazy is that? Check out the footage below!