Transcripts

The Space Race Goes Local

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So here's one way to get kids interested in science, talk about outer space. It turns out our local space industry is booming. Right here in our own backyard, scientists are building rockets that soon will be blasting off to the international space station. Sabri Ben-Achour has the story.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:20
In a small white locker room, three men put on white hairnets and white full length body suits.

MR. KEITH DAVIES

00:00:25
If you can see, they have little stripes in them which are carbon fibers which conduct the electricity away so they dissipate any static charge that builds up on your clothes, for instance.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:36
That's Keith Davies, he's a vehicle manager for Orbital Science's Corporation, where, right outside of Dulles Airport, they're building space cargo ships and satellites. All done up in the white jumpsuits, the men look like astronauts and one of them is a former one, Carl Walz, used to fly in NASA shuttles.

MR. CARL WALZ

00:00:52
People think of this area as being dominated by the government. And here we are, we're building spacecraft, just outside the beltway. So -- and these spacecrafts, they'll go to Wallops, they'll go to the Cape. Some go to Kazakhstan. We ship spacecraft everywhere.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:09
Every door requires a badge and a background check to get through. The men walk into a massive room resembling an immense airplane hangar or a high school gymnasium. They walk across a sticky mat and a shoe cleaner to remove any dusts from their shoes.

DAVIES

00:01:23
What you want to do is to make sure that spacecraft isn't getting contaminated, doesn't have particles that can float around in zero G, it would inadvertently short something out because we have no opportunity to fix it in orbit.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:35
The instruments are so sensitive that a particle 1/200 the width of a human hair could cause a short or a fracture if it landed in the wrong place.

DAVIES

00:01:44
This is the vehicle.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:45
In the far corner of the room, an eight foot tall silver octagon is connected to sensors and wires of all kinds. This is part of the Cygnus Cargo Space Craft. And of all the rocket parts and satellites in this cavernous room, it may be the most important. Carl Walz.

WALZ

00:02:02
With the space shuttle retiring, there's a need to provide logistics to the station, so food, clothing, spare parts. Also, to take trash from the station.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:15
NASA is paying Orbital $1.9 billion to launch eight of these satellites to the space station, carrying 20,000 kilograms of cargo. Orbital says "This has created around 400 jobs." And as we speak, we're informed that we are interfering with a test of the ships LIDAR. It's like radar but with invisible lasers.

DAVIES

00:02:35
It's an infrared laser so you can't actually see it, but these mirrors are cycling back and forth to twitch the laser.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:40
Gold mirrors flickering back and forth, have been trying to use the lasers to determine the satellites distance from a theoretical space station and we have been messing it up. LIDAR is critical to safety.

WALZ

00:02:51
So imagine, okay, we're going 17,500 miles an hour, the spacecraft are about 240 miles above the earth and we know the distance between the spacecraft and the space station, to about a half an inch. It is very carefully orchestrated dance, if you will, where we fly 10 meters from the space station and then we stop. And at that point, the space station astronauts will use the space station robotic arm to grapple the Cygnus and then those astronauts will then maneuver the Cygnus to one of the birthing ports on the station.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:34
All of the sensors and the thrusters on this ship are triply redundant, just in case something goes wrong, the completed satellite will be run through dozens of tests which, test manager, Dan Wiles, explains, there's cold vacuum testing, they'll shake the spacecraft and then there's this, a 30 foot tall ring of speakers.

MR. DAN WILES

00:03:51
This is our set up for acoustics testing. What we're doing here is immolating the sound of a rocket. We'll put the vehicle inside of it, it'll just be a quick one minute (makes noise) .

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:03
Actually, it sounds more like...

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:05
That's the tape they'll play. It's all to get ready for the real thing in February when it'll launch from Wallops Island, Va. If all goes well, it'll mark the beginning of a new era in Virginia's space industry. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.

SHEIR

00:04:25
You can take a gander at those high tech rockets in Northern Virginia on our website metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:04:55
We're going to take another break now, but when we return...

MS. KIM BENDER

00:04:58
And that's pretty amazing, that someone with no formal training could come up with this amazing piece of art.

SHEIR

00:05:04
And he's doing it with broken light bulbs, tape, tacks, pins, flower vases, jelly jars.

BENDER

00:05:09
Yes.

SHEIR

00:05:10
Using found items to create an epic masterpiece. That and more in just a minute, here on Metro Connection on WAMU 88.5.
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