It was moving day, and Dante Lauretta was excited. “I could hardly sleep last night,” he said, standing near a truck at Lockheed Martin’s Denver campus on a recent Friday morning.
Lauretta is the principal investigator for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx), a NASA mission to collect samples from a near Earth asteroid. On the truck, inside a special climate-controlled container, was OSIRIS-REx, ready to travel from the Lockheed Martin factory where it was assembled to the Kennedy Space Center, where it will be prepared for a Sept. 8 launch on an Atlas 5.
Not surprisingly, getting an $800 million spacecraft from the factory to the launch pad is more complicated than slapping a shipping label on a crate and calling UPS. Transporting OSIRIS-REx was an intricate operation, involving teams of NASA and Lockheed personnel, trucks, forklifts and a U.S. Air Force C-17, which ferried the spacecraft from Buckley Air Force Base near Denver to KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility.
It’s a deliberate, precise operation, with every step carefully choreographed and closely monitored. By the end of the day, the shipping container arrived at KSC, where the spacecraft was removed from its shipping container inside a clean room the next morning. It wasn’t all serious work, though: accompanying the spacecraft was its whimsical mascot, a stuffed penguin dressed as a dinosaur named Pen-REx.
As the shipping container was removed from the C-17 in Florida, Lauretta looked relieved. “Everything’s going according to plan,” he said. The first, and shortest, step in OSIRIS-REx’s journey was complete.