The US space agency NASA used its massive Super Guppy aircraft to transport the Mars-bound Orion capsule from the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Super Guppy allows NASA to fly spacecraft components, systems and sub-systems around the world. The Orion capsule will eventually carry four astronauts to deep space, including Mars.
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The Orion will be launched aboard the currently under-development Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Once completed in 2018, the SLS will be the world’s largest and most powerful rocket. It will be capable of carrying humans to Mars. Assuming there are no delays or changes in NASA’s mandate, the Orion will conduct its first manned mission in 2021. The space crew module will subsequently be used for other missions. Eventually, the space agency plans to send humans to Mars in mid-2030s.
— NASA Kennedy / KSC (@NASAKennedy) February 1, 2016
The cargo area of Super Guppy is 25 feet wide, 25 feet tall, and 111 feet long. It is capable of carrying more than 26 tons of cargo. NASA relies on the jumbo plane to ferry large components that are impossible to ship by road or by sea. Its hinged nose opens at an angle bigger than 200 degrees, allowing people to load and unload large equipment from its front.
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On Monday, Super Guppy transported Orion’s underlying structure, the pressure vessel, to the Kennedy Space Center. It took engineers about four months to build the pressure vessel from seven large aluminum pieces. In 2013, the jumbo aircraft was used to carry the Orion capsule’s heat shield, the largest of its kind ever built. The Super Guppy was first designed during the Apollo program and was used to carry parts of the Saturn V rocket.
While NASA is planning to take humans to Mars in mid-2030s, billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX aims to accomplish it by 2026. Musk said in December that reusable rockets will be key to setting up a human colony on the red planet.