The Chamber took an important step in its effort to help build support for NASA’s Space Launch System when it took a delegation of 76 business and community leaders for a tour of the SLS test and production facilities for the rocket program on May 16 – 17.
The Chamber’s trip came just a few days following NASA’s May 12th announcement that the first launch of the Space Launch System will be delayed until sometime in 2019. The launch delay has some worrying that the SLS program will face renewed opposition from proponents of “commercial space” advocates, making the Chamber’s advocacy efforts for the program even more critical to the effort to keep the program funded.
The trip was scheduled to include a test of the RS 25 engine that will power the core stage of the SLS rocket. Unfortunately, due to a facility issue (not a problem with the engine), the test was scrubbed. But it does raise an interesting question – What would you do if you had to be able to repair a fuel line containing hydrogen at 415 degrees below zero in a hot and humid environment? That’s the kind of problem that can pop up when you’re trying to test an RS-25 engine. All kinds of issues can present themselves when a large crowd is waiting, watching to see a test in person.
Safety is critical, though. Lives are at stake in these types of operations and NASA made the decision to call off the May 16 test firing at Stennis Space Center in Pearlington, MS.
Once we learned the test firing wasn’t meant to be, we continued on to New Orleans for an evening in the Big Easy. Todd May, Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center spoke with us about what happened in the test and what other advancements are being made daily to get the Space Launch System in flight.
The next morning at breakfast, Steve Wofford and Mike Kynard discussed the SLS and the work being done in Huntsville, at Stennis and at Michoud Assembly Facility to take us back to the moon and on to Mars. Wofford is manager of the SLS Liquid Engines Office at Marshall and Kynard is Deputy Director of Michoud. Wofford played a video that fired up the room:
Kynard acknowledged the strong connection between Marshall, Michoud and Stennis and the difficulty Michoud was dealt during February when a tornado hit the facility. While it didn’t affect SLS operations per se, it has impacted other tenants who use facilities on Michoud’s campus.
We then rode to Michoud to tour the 43-acre facility on a fun little tram, similar to the ones used at Disney World. There, Malcolm Wood and his team showed us large vertical assembly machines used to weld aluminum panels to make the large hydrogen tanks that make up the SLS. We also learned about work being done to create the Orion capsule.
The SLS is the biggest, most capable rocket ever built for human space exploration missions beyond Earth’s orbit. It’s designed to be flexible and evolve for crew and cargo needs. SLS Block 1, at 322 feet, will be taller than the Statue of Liberty. SLS Block 2 will be 365 feet, taller than a 30-story building!
Think about the parts on these launch systems – how much work is involved to transport these different systems from Huntsville to Michoud, to Stennis, then on to Cape Canaveral for launch. North Alabama’s workforce plays a major role in making this happen every day.
See the rest of the photos.