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Navy, NASA make plans for spaceship recovery

Mar. 7, 2013 - 12:02PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 7, 2013 - 12:02PM  |  
An amphibious transport dock will be used to recover the landing capsule of the Orion spacecraft, set to make its first flight in September 2014.
An amphibious transport dock will be used to recover the landing capsule of the Orion spacecraft, set to make its first flight in September 2014. (NASA illustration)
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Sailors will soon take part in an out-of-this-world mission.

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Sailors will soon take part in an out-of-this-world mission.

NASA is partnering with the Navy to recover the Orion spacecraft, scheduled for its first flight in September 2014, a NASA release said.

Orion spacecraft eventually will take crews of up to four people into deep space, on trips to asteroids or even Mars, according to a NASA news release. The astronauts will re-enter Earth's atmosphere in a cone-shaped capsule, similar to the Apollo spacecraft.

The capsule will parachute into the ocean, and that's where the Navy comes in.

Navy dive teams in small boats will approach the spacecraft module and attach a winch line to pull the capsule into the well deck of an amphibious transport dock. These amphibs will be used for this mission because of their low cost and high-quality tracking radar, the release said.

Once the module is inside the well deck, the small boat teams will connect tending lines to the capsule and guide it over the recovery cradle. The water will be drained from the well deck, leaving the spacecraft module resting on the cradle, the release said.

Two tests are scheduled in the next year.

The first in August will be at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., aboard the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde. The ship will remain in port while recovering the capsule during the two-day test, the release said, to eliminate rough water or other environmental conditions for the first try.

A second test is scheduled for January at Naval Base San Diego aboard the amphibious transport dock San Diego, the release said. The four-day test will take place underway off the West Coast to evaluate the recovery process in a more challenging environment.

While NASA has publicly discussed these details, Navy officials declined to comment on mission specifics.

The partnership is in the early planning stages, a spokeswoman with Fleet Forces Command said.

This isn't the first time the Navy has given astronauts a lift home. The Navy recovered spacecraft from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions dating to 1961, according to Naval History and Heritage Command's website. The last recovery by a Navy ship was in 1975, when the Iwo Jima-class amphibious assault ship New Orleans recovered the last flight of an Apollo spacecraft.

Advances in the space program eliminated water recoveries with the creation of the space shuttle, which could land on a runway like a glider.

Orion is based on the design of the Apollo spacecraft, which includes a capsule, because using known technology lowers the risk of the mission, NASA officials have said. However, the Orion capsule will have some upgrades. In addition to being more than double the size of the Apollo capsule, it will have improved computers, life support and heat protection systems.

The space shuttle program was shut down because of high costs and safety concerns.

The last space shuttle mission returned to Earth on July 21, 2011.

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