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article imageConstruction of the first manned Orion spacecraft has started

By Karen Graham     Feb 5, 2018 in Science
Lockheed Martin has begun construction work at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, on a spacecraft designed to transport astronauts to the moon as part of Exploration Mission-2.
Lockheed Martin has announced that technicians and engineers at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans welded together the first two components of the Orion crew module capsule for the EM-2 mission last week.
When the crew capsule is launched aboard the Space Launch System rocket as part of the EM-2 mission, it will carry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in almost 50 years, establishing a framework for the Deep Space Gateway and manned missions to Mars.
Early  artist s rendering of the Orion crew capsule in lunar orbit. Work is now underway on the real...
Early artist's rendering of the Orion crew capsule in lunar orbit. Work is now underway on the real thing.
Lockheed
“We’re finishing assembly of the EM-1 Orion spacecraft in Florida, and simultaneously starting production on the first one that will carry crew,” said Mike Hawes, vice president and program manager for Orion at Lockheed.
The pressure vessel crew capsule is expected to be completed by the end of the summer, 2018 and will consist of seven aluminum alloy pieces, aft bulkhead, barrel and three individual cone panels. Once completed in September, it will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center where the Lockheed Martin team will perform assembly and test of the EM-2 spacecraft.
To date, only one operational Orion capsule has reached space, and that was an unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) that lifted off atop a Delta IV Heavy booster on December 5, 2014. A second more advanced Orion is currently being prepared for Exploration Mission-1. It's scheduled to fly in 2019 using the SLS but again, without a crew.
Artist Concept: Space Launch System in Flight.
The SLS is an advanced  heavy-lift rocket that will p...
Artist Concept: Space Launch System in Flight. The SLS is an advanced, heavy-lift rocket that will provide an entirely new capability for science and human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.
NASA
During Exploratory Mission-1 (EM-1), the spacecraft will loop around the moon and come back to Earth, if all goes according to plan. The mission has taken on greater importance since President Trump directed NASA in December to send humans back to the moon before heading to Mars.
Hawes said, "This is not only the most advanced spacecraft ever built, its production will be more efficient than any previous capsule. For example, look at the progress we've made on the EM-2 pressure vessel compared to the first one we built. The latest version is 30 percent lighter and has 80 percent fewer parts. That equates to a substantially more cost-effective and capable spacecraft."
Workers are preparing the Orion spacecraft that flew on Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014 for transp...
Workers are preparing the Orion spacecraft that flew on Exploration Flight Test-1 in 2014 for transport.
NASA
"The EM-1 and EM-2 crew modules are very similar in design, but we've made a lot of improvements since we built EM-1, including processes, scheduling, and supply chain, all contributing to a lower cost and faster manufacturing," said Paul Anderson, director of Orion EM-2 production at Lockheed Martin.
And the historical significance is not lost to Anderson and his team. "Each of these spacecraft are important, but we realize that the EM-2 capsule is special as it's the first one to carry astronauts back out to the Moon, something we haven't done in a long time. It's something we think about every day."
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