Next Cygnus cargo ship dedicated to astronaut Alan Poindexter
U.S. aerospace manufacturer Orbital ATK, builder of the Cygnus automated cargo vessels, has a tradition of naming their solar-powered Cygnus craft for NASA astronauts who have passed away. Most of those selected have had some relationship to the Dulles, Virginia-based firm’s efforts or to the construction of the International Space Station.
This honor was continued on June 7 when Orbital ATK named its latest Cygnus vessel, which is slated to conduct the OA-5 mission to the ISS later this summer, after astronaut and naval aviator Alan G. Poindexter, who died in a watercraft accident in 2012.
— Orbital ATK (@OrbitalATK) June 7, 2016
“Poindexter’s intersecting career with several members of [the] Orbital ATK management, his connection to Maryland and the Eastern Shore and his distinguished military and space flight career make him an ideal honoree for the OA-5 mission,” the company stated on Twitter.
Previous Cygnus vehicles were named of astronauts G. David Low, C. Gordon Fullerton, Janice Voss, Deke Slayton, and Rick Husband. The OA-5 Cygnus will be officially known as the S.S. Alan Poindexter. The cargo vessel named for Husband is still attached to the ISS and is scheduled to depart on June 14.
The S.S. Alan Poindexter is set for launch no earlier than July 6, 2016, atop Orbital ATK’s upgraded Antares 230 launch vehicle from Virginia Space’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A on Wallops Island, Virginia at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility.
This launch will mark the return of the Cygnus and Antares vehicles to the Wallops facility since the Orb-3 Cygnus cargo freighter was lost when the Antares rocket exploded approximately 12 seconds into its flight on October 28, 2014. The new “Enhanced” Antares rocket includes two Russian-built RD-181 engines for increased performance and flexibility.
The S.S. Alan Poindexter is slated to transport approximately 5,290 lbs (2,400 kilograms) of supplies and science experiments to the astronauts stationed on the ISS. When the cargo ship eventually departs the space station, it will begin “secondary payload missions”. These projects include the Saffire II payload experiment to study combustion behavior in microgravity. In addition, a NanoRack deployer will release Spire CubeSats used for weather forecasting.
Alan Goodwin “Dex” Poindexter, who was born on November 5, 1961, went on to become an aviator with the U.S. Navy. He eventually applied with NASA to be an astronaut and was selected in 1998. Poindexter piloted the STS-122 Space Shuttle Atlantis mission in 2008 that delivered the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Columbus science module to the ISS. Poindexter’s next mission into the black of space saw him take command of Space Shuttle Discovery in 2010. That flight, STS-131, was a major resupply mission for the space station.
Several of Poindexter’s former crew mates expressed their pleasure that his name had been chosen to grace one of the spacecraft.
@OrbitalATK @NASA Wonderful way to honor Dex; his dedication & accomplishments for NASA. @Astro_Clay @AstroRM @Astro_Stephanie @Astro_Naoko tweeted STS-131 mission specialist Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger on Twitter.
“Thanks for recognizing my [1998 NASA] classmate and our STS-131 commander,” tweeted Clay Anderson, who also flew on Discovery in 2010 as a mission specialist.
Larry Klaes is an author and freelance journalist specializing in news and educational work on the sciences. Klae's past endeavors include editor of SETIQuest magazine and President of the Boston chapter of the National Space Society (NSS). Klaes joined SpaceFlight Insider in 2016.