Magazine article American Scientist

First Person: Nujoud Merancy

Magazine article American Scientist

First Person: Nujoud Merancy

Article excerpt

NASA is developing a new system to take humans into space, replacing the Space Shuttle program that ended in 2Oil. A major component of that system, the Orion spacecraft, had some major tests over the past year (see graphic at left), and is scheduled for its next test launch in 2018. Aerospace engineer Nujoud Merancy fright), the mission planning and analysis lead for Orion, gave an overview of the spacecraft and its development to managing editor Fenella Saunders.

What will Orion do?

The purpose of Orion is to be the vehicle that safely takes the crew to and from space, and it will have shortduration mission capabilities for humans. We had a test flight in December, and our next one will be in 2018 when we actually will have an almost fully complete vehicle to go out to beyond Earth orbit for a test flight. Then humans are scheduled to be launched in 2023.

What are the pieces of the craft?

There are four essential pieces. The crew module is the capsule-shape design where the crew will actually be inside. It's a pressure vessel, a heat shield, and a parachute for all the things that the crew needs going to and from space. The service module has the propulsion system, the solar arrays, the radiators for thermal control, and all of the crew consumables-water, oxygen, and nitrogen. The launch abort system is the big tower on the pad, which is useful if an abort is needed soon after launch, and then it jettisons after we get high in the air. The last piece is the spacecraft adapter, which is the ring that attaches Orion to the space launch system, and the protective fairings we jettison upon leaving orbit.

The overall shape of vehicle echoes that from the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s. Has that shape been a design consideration?

The exterior shape of the capsule is very much similar to what Apollo had, because the physics of reentry, heating, and aerodynamics don't change, regardless of what year it is. But inside, we're fitting four crew and Apollo only held three. And you can stand up now inside Orion, you have lots of room. It's about the interior volume of a couple of minivans.

What is your role with Orion?

I'm the mission planning and analysis lead. My role is making sure that the missions we design can be flown by the vehicle. So as we're going through the design, I'm looking at both the missions that are out there, what we could potentially do with the vehicle, and then the design we're putting together, to make sure that we're building a capable vehicle.

How far could Orion go into space?

We will have enough supplies onboard for four crew for up to 21 days. So really we can do anything inside lunar orbit, which includes a distant retrograde orbit, an asteroid mission, or conceivably support for lunar landing type missions. …

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