Almost 50 years after Eugene Cernan last walked on the moon, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) aims to return to earth's only natural satellite by 2020, and it has turned to a new lead contractor to build spacesuits for its astronauts.
NASA officials today announced the decision to offer the $745 million contract of designing, developing and testing the agency's new set of spacesuits to Oceaneering International Inc. of Houston, Texas, subject to certain conditions. The new generation is also known as the Constellation Space Suit System.
A joint bid by two other companies was also considered for the $184 million development process that is expected to provide its first results around September 2014. The winner defeated a bid by Exploration Systems and Technology, a joint venture of current lead spacesuit contractors United Technologies Corp's Hamilton Sundstrand of Windsor Locks, Connecticut, and ILC Dover of Frederica, Delaware.
During the collaboration's first six years, Oceaneering will engage in the development of suits needed for the launch and re-entry of the new Orion spacecraft and also for the contingency Extravehicular Activity.
On 14 January 2004, US President George W Bush announced the Orion spacecraft, known then as the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), as part of the Vision for Space Exploration:
''Our second goal is to develop and test a new spacecraft, the Crew Exploration Vehicle, by 2008, and to conduct the first manned mission no later than 2014. The Crew Exploration Vehicle will be capable of ferrying astronauts and scientists to the Space Station after the shuttle is retired. But the main purpose of this spacecraft will be to carry astronauts beyond our orbit to other worlds. This will be the first spacecraft of its kind since the Apollo Command Module.''
Orion is a spacecraft design currently under development by NASA, the space agency of the United States. Each Orion spacecraft will carry a crew of four to six astronauts, and will be launched by the Ares I, a launch vehicle also currently under development.
Both Orion and Ares I are elements of NASA's Project Constellation, which plans to send human explorers back to the Moon by 2020, and then onward to Mars and other destinations in the solar system. On 31 August 2006, NASA awarded Lockheed Martin the contract to design, develop, and build Orion.
Orion will launch from Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center, the same launch complex that currently launches the Space Shuttle. NASA will use Orion spacecraft for its human spaceflight missions after the last Shuttle orbiter is retired in 2010.
The first Orion flight is scheduled at the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015 with future flights to the Station. If commercial orbital transportation services are unavailable, Orion will handle logistic flights to the International Space Station. After that Orion is to become a key component of human missions to the Moon and Mars.
In the event that everything goes according to plan, the spacesuit contract offers the possibility for building additional suits needed for the upcoming lunar surface activities. The lunar spacesuit forms the bulk of the contract value, and will be awarded conditional to the success of the Orion suit.
The moon missions demand a new design for the space suits, as the older versions were made strictly for weightlessness scenarios and the walking matter was left out. According to Glenn Lutz, project manager for the spacesuit system at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, the older spacesuits ''were built for a completely different set of problems to solve," Lutz said. Astronauts on the moon will need lighter-weight suits that can bend and be easily maneuvered.''
Partnering with Oceaneering are Air-Lock Inc of Milford, Connecticut, David Clark Co of Worcester, Massachusetts, Cimarron Software Services Inc of Houston, Harris Corp of Palm Bay, Florida, Honeywell International Inc of Glendale, Arizona, Paragon Space Development Corp. of Tucson, Arizona, and United Space Alliance of Houston.
Oceaneering International Inc. is an applied technology company based in Houston, Texas, US that provides engineered services and hardware to customers who operate in marine, space, and other environments. It was founded in 1964.
Oceaneering's services and products are marketed worldwide to oil and gas companies, government agencies, and firms in the telecommunications, aerospace, and marine engineering and construction industries.
Its business offerings include remotely operated vehicles, mobile offshore production systems, built-to-order specialty hardware, engineering and project management, sub-sea intervention and installation services, non-destructive testing and inspections, manned diving, and space suits.
The company's stock is a component of the S&P 600 stock market index.