A Visit from Orion

Earlier this month, a test module of the Orion Pathfinder visited the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Orion Capsule on display in Huntsville

The Space Center hosted a lecture as part of their Pass the Torch series. Todd May, NASA’s Space Launch System Program Manager, and Mark Kirasich, NASA’s Orion Deputy Project Manager gave a presentation on the Orion project.

What was most exciting about their presentations was the focus on Mars. The Orion program’s aim is to get humans on Mars, and further out into our solar system. 
The entire right half of the auditorium was filled with schoolchildren from Georgia. I’m really glad they were there, because after the lecture there was a Q&A session, and they were the only ones who came prepared with questions. 
And their questions were really great. 
The presenters had made a big deal of telling the children that they were the future of the space program. And that they’d be the ones exploring Mars and other worlds someday. 
When it came time for the Q&A, one boy asked his question with a tone of exasperation beneath his politeness: “So, you keep saying we’re the future, and we’re going to get to go to space when we’re older. But do you ever think there’ll be a time when kids can go to space? Like, at the age we’re at right now?”
He’s itching to go to space. He wants to go now
And even though I was sitting on the left side of the room, with people my age and mostly older, there were rumbles of support for the kid’s question. We want to go too. 
Outside the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL
Another great question asked by one of the schoolkids:
“So why did we ever switch to the shuttle when we knew that the Apollo design worked?”
The presenters said that the shuttle design helped carry payload back and forth to the International Space Station. 
After the lecture and Q&A ended, we wandered out into the Davidson Center. At the end of the long hallway that holds the Saturn V rocket, there’s a glass display case with this inside:
An Apollo capsule on loan from the Smithsonian
I grew up in the 80’s, so the shuttle missions are my milestones, just like the Apollo missions were for my father. I watched the Challenger live on TV in my elementary classroom. And I remember sitting in the break room at work watching the last US shuttle launch on the television and feeling a great sadness at never going to one of the launches down in Florida. 
But maybe the capsule design is better for capturing the imagination of the world. 
With the shuttle we ferried supplies. But with Orion, the focus is exploration, heading further and further out into the cosmos. And that sense of exploration is what makes people excited about the space program. It’s what fuels great stories and films that inspire children to study the sciences. Stories of the USS Enterprise would not have been as interesting if they’d spent all of their time between Earth and the ISS. 
Before the Orion visited Huntsville, I had no idea what was going on right now in the space program. With the shuttles decommissioned, I thought the whole program was in decline, and that we’d be forever hitching rides. 
But the space program is still alive, and I’m ready to start exploring. Even if it’s only in my stories. 
Hatch to the Apollo capsule
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