Kennedy Space Center prepping for Orion's manned space future

Alabama river rock lines the SLS's eventual path to the launch pad. (Source: WAFF)
Alabama river rock lines the SLS's eventual path to the launch pad. (Source: WAFF)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL (WAFF) - The unmanned test flight for the Orion Crew Capsule is scheduled to fly early Thursday morning. The Orion will eventually take astronauts into deep space.

This trip, Orion will ride into space on top of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV- Heavy Rocket made in Decatur, AL.

Eventually, Orion will ride on the Space Launch System being developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building is the largest single story structure in the world.

It was the last stop for the Saturn V -the Shuttle- and now workers are making modifications at the facility, getting it ready for Space Launch System.

The SLS will actually be affixed to a 10-million pound platform known as the Mobile Launcher. Think of it as the trailer attached to the SLS. It is massive - taller than the Statue of Liberty by 100 feet!

"Approximately, the square footage is (that) of about 10 three-bedroom homes," explained project manager Eric Ernst.

If this mobile launcher is the trailer, then the Hauler is the truck. It's also called the "crawler" because it does just that: crawls, for 6-8 hours with a rocket on top. It's been in operation for more than 50 years, with upgrades for each NASA rocket program.

Sam Dove is one of a few crawler commanders.

"To know you are taking this hardware out to the pad, and you are responsible for all that, and you are part of something so huge that matters so much to this county, it's just a great experience," Dove said.

Crawler Way is situated 3.5 miles from the VAB to the launch pad, where the SLS will await liftoff. And what is it rolling on? Alabama river rock, provided courtesy of the Jemison Quarry.

"It's the shape of the rock," Dove explained about what makes Alabama river rock so special. "So the crawler can roll over it. It doesn't have friction; it allows it to steer easier and it cushions the ride a bit as we go over it."

"When the crawler goes over it, it won't send off any sparks when it crushes," added Management Support Assistant Robert Smith.

That means the only pyrotechnical display is saved for the launch pad.

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