It’s not a whale. Or a fish. It’s a plane called Super Guppy.
The uniquely-shaped, last-of-its-kind NASA aircraft made a rare appearance at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville yesterday to deliver an Orion stage adapter from the Kennedy Space Center as part of the upcoming Artemis missions to the moon.
Super Guppy, and Huntsville air and space experts, will play a key role in helping NASA reach its goal of landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon; the Artemis mission also will serve as a stepping stone to send astronauts to Mars. The missions will allow humans to fly further into space than ever before. The astronauts are expected to stay in space longer than anyone else before them and return home faster.
“This is our way to go back to the moon on a more permanent basis,” said Brent Gaddes, the Orion Stage Adapter Lead at NASA. “Eventually setting up bases on the moon so we can learn a lot more about living in space long term, and how to develop the resources that are on the moon to do things like support life and also provide fuels for rockets that will eventually carry us to Mars.
Usually stationed in El Paso, Texas because the weather conditions there results in less wear on the plane, the Super Guppy got its “tongue and cheek” name because it looks like a giant whale.
“Guppies are tiny, so I think it’s just meant to be kind of a wink, funny name because it is so large,” said Janet Sudnik with the office of communications at Marshall Space Flight Center.
The plane has played a “key role” in its space missions since the Apollo flight, helping to transport large items that would otherwise require a barge. The plane needs two days at most to carry parts between different space stations, whereas a barge could take months.
When NASA needs to ship oversized hardware around the country, it brings in the historic aircraft, which is a last-of-its-kind carrier that was originally built as part of a fleet in the 1960s to help with the Apollo missions.
The Super Guppy is capable of hauling loads of more than 26 tons and boasts a cargo compartment 25 feet tall, 25 feet wide, and 111 feet long, according to NASA. Its nose can open more than 200 degrees, allowing NASA teams to load and unload large hardware pieces and other oversized cargo from its front end.
The OSA that the Super Guppy carried to Huntsville yesterday was a test article designed and built by scientists at Marshall to help prepare the agency’s Space Launch System rocket for spaceflight. The adapter that will be used for the Artemis mission is stationed at the Kennedy Space Center.
During the upcoming Artemis I flight test, the adapter will deploy 10 different small satellites to conduct various science and technology demonstrations in deep space.
The first unmanned Artemis flight test will launch from Cape Canaveral on Aug. 29, all thanks to the help of the Super Guppy.
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