The Orion capsule, NASA’s spacecraft designed to land humans on Mars, was carried from the US space agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to Kennedy Space Centre Florida for structural integrity tests.
“The pressure vessel of @NASA_Orion for Exploration Mission-1 is heading to KSC today,” NASA’s Kennedy Space Center tweeted on Monday.
The Orion, which was carried in a Super Guppy aircraft, will carry four astronauts and will be launched from NASA’s rocket-in-the-making — the Space Launch System (SLS) for the mission currently scheduled for 2018.
The Super Guppy has a cargo area that is 25 feet tall, 25 feet wide and 111 feet long and the jumbo plane, which can carry over 26 tonnes of cargo, is often used by NASA to ferry large components around the country that would take too long (or be impossible) to ship by land or by sea, techcrunch.com reported.
The aircraft was designed during the Apollo programme and was used in the 1960s to carry parts of the Saturn V rocket from California to Florida.
The vehicle has also been used to ship NASA’s supersonic jets as well as modules from the International Space Station.
In 2013, the Super Guppy was used to carry Orion’s heat shield, which was the largest of its kind ever built.
Assuming there are no delays or changes in NASA’s mandate, Orion’s first crewed-mission will take place in 2023. NASA hopes to use Orion to send humans to Mars by the mid-2030s.