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NASA prepares Orion simulator for lunar mission training
by Paul Brinkmann
Washington DC (UPI) Jan 6, 2021

NASA is setting up a high-tech simulator, made by Lockheed Martin, to teach astronauts how to operate the Orion capsule during planned moon missions.

Weak funding from Congress has cast doubt over the schedule for such lunar missions, but NASA is moving forward with preparations, officials have said.

Lockheed delivered the Orion simulator to Johnson Space Center in mid-December, ahead of the first potential crewed flight to the moon in 2023.

Astronauts will practice every step of their planned flights to the moon, from launch to lunar landing, NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik told UPI.

"The training teams will be able to have the highest-fidelity, most realistic flight simulations that are possible," said Bresnik, who trained in simulators for his space shuttle mission in 2009 and aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule to the International Space Station in 2017.

"Shuttle simulators had two TVs mounted where the windows were, and that was as good as we could get with the technology then," he said. "But the windows themselves in the Orion simulator will be screens showing views of Earth, space and the moon that will be pretty darn impressive."

NASA is installing Orion's display and control system and crew seats to mimic what astronauts will experience in flight. Crews will be trained once they are named for specific missions, the first of which will be the Artemis II mission to fly around the moon.

Although scheduled for 2023, the mission may not occur at that time, according to numerous space experts who have previously told UPI that congressional funding has fallen well short of required levels.

The Trump administration had moved a lunar landing goal up from 2028 to 2024, but President-elect Joe Biden's administration hasn't stated such a goal.

The Orion simulator doesn't move on a mechanical axis as the shuttle did, Bresnik said, because the virtual reality and computer simulations have improved so much as to make that unnecessary.

"The new simulator has a unique capability of pulling out the seat bottoms allowing us to stand, so we're not just stuck in the seat. That's more like how we would float in weightlessness and operate the controls," Bresnik said.

Like shuttle and Apollo simulators, the Orion simulator will prepare astronauts for various emergencies and unplanned events, he said.

Sights and sounds will help the astronauts understand what the spacecraft is doing, in addition to instruments and data, said Bryan Doyle, software architect on the capsule for Lockheed Martin.

"We will generate audio cues, to simulate when mortars fire to release a heat shield, for example, or when a fan turns on," Doyle said. "They need to know what to expect and be able to sense when things are right or not."

Lockheed uses the same software in the simulator that has been used in simulations for the flight controllers and in the capsule itself, Doyle said.

The simulator even would provide views of the Earth in case the mission goes into abort mode upon liftoff, he said.

"We can start the mission at different points throughout the flight," he said. "They don't have to run through an entire 10-day journey to experience events at the moon."

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