NASA ships a capsule

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In what appears to me to be a overwrought attempt to make the minor shipment of one Orion capsule appear to be a major achievement, NASA on Monday transported the next Orion capsule from Louisiana to Florida.

They used the NASA’s Super Guppy cargo plane to do it, even though I suspect that the capsule really isn’t that large and could have likely been shipped by road in a truck for a lot less. The agency also apparently made a big deal about this shipment with the press, which like sheep went along with it.

The pictures here illustrate what I mean. I grant that the Super Guppy is a cool plane, and it is certainly fun to see how it is loaded and flies, but from a cost perspective this seems to be a very expensive way to transport the capsule.

As a result, the impression this all leaves me with is that NASA is really not doing very much with Orion, working at a snail’s pace to stretch out the payments, and thus has to sell every little thing to convince the public that this project is accomplishing a lot.


  • Calvin Dodge

    To be fair, wasn’t the Galileo probe’s antenna damaged because it was transported by truck rather than by airplane?

  • I don’t remember the cause of the damage to Galileo’s antenna, but even assuming you are right, that damage wasn’t the generic fault of truck transport, it was the fault of the specific circumstances of that shipment.

    Plenty of very very very delicate goods are shipped by truck or train all the time. NASA pushes for doing things the most expensive way ever to convince Congress to give them lots of cash. They also push the meme that everything related to space exploration, no matter how trivial, is difficult and complicated and only special people (who work at NASA) can do it for the same reasons.

    Launching a rocket safely and reliably is without doubt a challenge. Shipping a capsule from Louisiana to Florida is not. And that NASA tries to make it look like it is says more about their wasteful, inefficient methods than it does about the job itself.

  • Edward

    Spaceflight hardware is packaged very carefully so that it can be transported safely by the means available, although I have only transported entire spacecraft, by truck, less than 100 miles each trip. I have found the following link that describes Galileo’s main antenna failure as a deployment failure, not a transportation problem. If the root cause was during transportation, then the antenna or spacecraft was not packaged properly. (I have written a few packaging procedures in my time.)
    “Unlike on previous spacecraft, the Galileo high-gain antenna was not a rigid structure. Instead, it was designed to unfurl, like an umbrella, once the spacecraft was safely en route to Jupiter. Unfortunately, the straps holding the folded antenna in place failed to respond to commands, and despite several ingenious attempts to open the antenna, it remained stuck in a partly unfurled state.”

    Since NASA is obviously not in a rush for the Orion capsule, as launch on EM-1 is not for another 32 months, the capsule could have been transported by barge or ship. The Michoud Assembly Facility is on the water. Since the 5 meter diameter of the spacecraft is twice the size of the oversize load threshold, water transport would have saved the traffic problems involved in taking up two lanes all the way from New Orleans to Kennedy.

    On the other hand, the Super Guppy may need to get some exercise every once in a while, like a car does, so the extra cost may have been a little less than we think.

  • Craig Beasley

    As Edward stated, there are issues with transporting the packaged Orion pressure vessel over the roadways, due to the packaging size for the most part. Shipping by barge is an option, but it is slower and entails some risks that air freight doesn’t. Then again, air transport is not universally safe, either. The Guppy moves it faster and with less hassle, that’s all this was.

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