Lockheed will build spaceship for journey to moon


Published: Friday, September 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, September 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
WASHINGTON - NASA on Thursday gave a multibillion-dollar contract to build a manned lunar spaceship to Lockheed Martin Corp., the aerospace leader that usually builds unmanned rockets.
The nation's space agency plans to use the Orion crew exploration vehicle to replace the space shuttle fleet, take astronauts to the moon and perhaps to Mars. Reusable and like Apollo and earlier spacecraft, it is perched atop the rocket.
The last time NASA awarded a manned spaceship contract to Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Md., was in 1996 for a spaceplane that was supposed to replace the space shuttle. NASA spent $912 million and the ship, called X-33, never got built because of technical problems.
The only other competitors for the contract were a team made up of Northrop Grumman Corp., the world's largest shipbuilder and third-largest military contractor, and Boeing Co.
"We feel we have an achievable design," said Doug Cooke, a deputy associate administrator when asked why Lockheed Martin was chosen over the competing team. "This is a design that is based on known capabilities. We know that this can be built so there are some differences there, perhaps."
Although all of NASA's 10 centers will provide engineering support on Orion, the majority of the work will be at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and final assembly will be completed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In picking Lockheed Martin for Orion, described by NASA's chief as "Apollo on steroids," NASA bypassed Apollo throwbacks Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles and its chief subcontractor Boeing of Chicago. Companies bought by Boeing built the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury capsules, Skylab and the space shuttle.
Lockheed Martin built several unmanned probes, including: 1998's Lunar Prospector; 1976 Viking probes of Mars; Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which entered the red planet's orbit earlier this year; and the 1999 Mars Climate Orbiter, which crashed because of a Lockheed Martin/NASA mismatching of metric and English measurement units. If all goes well, the first test flight of Orion will be September 2014 and astronauts could return to the moon by late 2019 or 2020, NASA estimates.
Orion will be the Apollo capsule-like replacement for the 25-year-old space shuttle fleet that is supposed to retire in four years, after completion of the International Space Station.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top