Spaceflight Insider

Insider Exclusive: Orion designed to keep crew in the ‘loop’

Lockheed Martin's Orion Crew Module Director at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

Lockheed Martin’s Orion Crew Module Director, Jim Bray, at NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Bray spoke with SpaceFlight Insider about how the new spacecraft is being designed and built – with the crew firmly in mind. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER, Texas — NASA’s next crew-rated spacecraft, Orion, has been engineered so that the vehicle is designed with the crews – who will fly on it – firmly in mind. An official working on Orion told SpaceFlight Insider that Orion’s windows, flight controls, even the seats in the roughly 22,899 lbs (10,387 kg) vehicle are being carefully crafted to guarantee mission success.

Orion Crew Module mockup at Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. Photo Credit Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceFlight Insider interviewed Lockheed Martins (the prime contractor on Orion) Orion Crew Module Director, Jim Bray, in November 2016, about how the 11-foot (3.3-meter) tall spacecraft is being crafted to support missions which could include destinations such as an asteroid, the Moon, and, eventually, Mars.

NASA’s Astronaut Office, based out of the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, is keeping its current corps of veteran and up-and-coming space-flyers in the mix in terms of Orion’s systems and subsystems. A fact Bray underscored.

“Those of us working on Orion have become familiar with the acronym, ‘H.I.T.L.’ – which stands for ‘Humans In The Loop’,” Bray said. “Everything we do on Orion boils down to the 95 percent male, 5 percent female who will fly on her.”

Orion’s first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1, or “EFT-1”, might have only lasted four hours and 24 minutes. Future voyages that Orion is a part of could last months and possibly longer. NASA has big plans for Orion and the spacecraft has proven to be a survivor.

NASA has been working under its “Journey to Mars” since October 2015. This initiative appears to have considered the fluid nature of U.S. politics and funding.

Under former President Barack Obama, the agency faced a complete cancellation of its crewed exploration efforts (excluding missions to the International Space Station which would have launched on Russian and then on commercially-provided vehicles) and was looking at having approximately 6 years’ worth of work (and an estimated $9 billion invested) lost.

NASA and its family of contractors working on Orion have built on that, developing a program and the support systems to allow it to proceed.

Orion first took to the skies atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on Dec. 5, 2014, from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 37 in Florida. While EFT 1 used the Heavy variant of the Delta IV launch system, the next flight of Orion, Exploration Mission 1, plans to use the massive Block 1 (which has the capability of hoisting some 70 metric tons to low-Earth orbit) version of NASA’s new Space Launch System super heavy lift rocket.

The first crewed flight of Orion is currently set to launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B in the early to mid-2020s.

“Here at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab, we use an Orion Crew Module to be able to test out different scenarios such as crew ingress and egress from the module after the crews have returned from the Moon, we want to make sure that they can safely exit the spacecraft after they’ve splashed down in the water,” Bray told SpaceFlight Insider.”We’re working to design this spacecraft to be able to take us on flights further than we’ve ever been before – we bring astronauts into the loop to ensure the best possible outcome of those missions.”

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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