The Constellation Program is a human spaceflight program planned by NASA. The stated goals of the program are gaining significant experience in operating away from Earth's environment, developing technologies needed for opening the space frontier and conducting fundamental science. Constellation was developed through the Exploration Systems Architecture Study, which determined how NASA would pursue the goals laid out in the Vision for Space Exploration and the NASA Authorization Act of 2005.
As part of the Constellation program, NASA plans to develop spacecraft and booster vehicles to replace the Space Shuttle and send astronauts to the Moon and possibly to Mars as well. Currently, NASA is in the process of designing two boosters, the Ares I and Ares V. Ares I will have the sole function of launching mission crews into orbit. Ares V will be designed to launch other hardware for use on missions and will have a heavier lift capacity than the Ares I booster. In addition to these two boosters, NASA is designing a set of other spacecraft for use during Constellation. These will include the Orion crew capsule, the Earth Departure Stage and the Altair lunar lander. Concerned by price increases on the program, U.S. President Obama has ordered a review of the project that will report by August 2009.
A full-scale mockup of NASA's Orion crew module is being tested in water under simulated and real landing weather conditions. Beginning March 23, a Navy-built, 18,000-pound Orion mockup will be placed in a test pool at the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Md. Ocean testing will begin April 6 off the coast of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The goal of the operation, dubbed the Post-landing Orion Recovery Test, or PORT, is to determine what kind of motions the astronaut crew can expect after landing, as well as conditions outside for the recovery team. The experience will help NASA design landing recovery operations including equipment, ship and crew necessities.
The Carderock facility provides a controlled environment for crew recovery personnel to familiarize themselves with the Orion capsule before the team tests procedures in the uncontrolled waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
For the ocean testing, the team will use a space shuttle solid rocket booster recovery ship to take the mockup out to sea, going further into rougher conditions each day. A media opportunity to view testing visible from shore will be scheduled for April 7 at Kennedy.
During the Orion mockup's transportation from Maryland to Florida, it will make stops for public viewing. Designated opportunities are March 30 in front of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington and April 3 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex in Florida.
NASA's Constellation Program, which includes the Orion crew vehicle and the Ares I rocket that will launch it, is America's next-generation human spaceflight system that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station, back to the moon and to destinations beyond.
The Constellation Program's Operations and Test Integration Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston is leading the PORT effort. Development of Orion and associated Constellation Program elements is a joint effort involving every NASA center and partners across the country. Results of these tests will influence Orion vehicle design at Johnson and recovery hardware designs under evaluation at Kennedy.
NASA`s Constellation Program