Orion spacecraft to blast off with local students’ experiment

A worker walks up to the launch pad as final preparations are underway for Nasa's Orion flight test at complex 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Orion is scheduled to lift off Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, on a United Launch Alliance Delta 4-heavy rocket on its first unmanned orbital test flight. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY/AP) — All systems are go for Thursday morning’s launch of the unmanned Orion spacecraft. It’s test journey into space will be accompanied by an experiment designed in Hampton Roads by a group of local students.

The new Orion spacecraft is part of NASA’s quest to send astronauts into the solar system, and eventually, to Mars. Thursday’s debut is an unmanned two-laps-around-Earth test flight, but it will be the farthest a built-for-humans capsule has flown since the Apollo moon missions.

Lockheed Martin Corp. built the capsule and is staging the $370 million test flight for NASA. The company used the process to educate high school students across the country through the Lockheed Martin Engineering Design Challenge.

Last year, five students from the New Horizons Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton entered the challenge — and won.

The students worked with NASA and Lockheed Martin teams to build deep-space radiation shielding. Their prototype is just a bit larger than a softball and was installed on Orion’s crew module. When it launches into space Thursday, the students will learn how well their design protected some equipment used for measuring radiation exposure.

The results could help scientists understand radiation exposure better and help them develop solutions before Orion’s first manned mission, which is expected to happen in the 2020s.

The five local students, were mentored by a former NASA engineer. The students are: Christopher Dobyns (Bethel High School), Daniel McNamara (Tabb High School), Anna Montogmery (Phoebus High School), Abid Rizzvi (York High School), and Sajan Sheth (Tabb High School).

All of the students are college freshman this year, but have reunited in Cape Canaveral, Fla. for Thursday’s rocket launch at 7:05 a.m.

If all goes well, the dry run will end with a Pacific spashdown off Mexico’s Baja coast. Navy ships will recover the capsule for future use.

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