NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - After years of relative idleness, NASA's Michoud plant in New Orleans East hums once more. Parts of the rocket ship that will take man to Mars are taking shape, with a key delivery ready to go next week.
"The workforce here are the craftsmen of the 21st century," said Mark Kirasich, the NASA Orion program manager.
"You don't get hardware to Marshall Flight Center without it coming through Michoud," said Todd May, director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.
"Every day's a challenge, but I think we're on target to make 2021," said Mike Hawes, the Lockheed Martin Orion program manager.
The star of the show is the Orion space capsule, which will ultimately launch four crewmembers to Mars. This is the third one built, and every one of its 2,700 pounds matters when it comes to landing man on Mars, a planet a thousand times farther than the moon.
Along for the design ride is Rick Mastracchio, part of a veteran astronaut team consulting on everything from space suits, to vibrations.
"I would love to fly on it, but we will have to see. I'm not getting any younger," he said.
The program seems to be picking up speed, with an unmanned launch to the moon planned in two years.
"Just getting to this point has been a huge effort of the team," said Hawes.
The Orion module has been in production in New Orleans East since September.
"Monday we ship the Orion module. That's the first human-rated capsule to go out in deep space in four years, and with them, we will set a distance record," said May.
That will be an unmanned mission set to launch in 2018 to the moon and back, powered by an SLS rocket also being built at Michoud.
"It is the world's largest welding machine -170 feet tall," said Steve Doering, SLS core stage manager, standing before a giant machine which welds rocket sections together.
The parts from the largest rocket ever built are now taking shape for a manned launch in six years.
"Right now we're driving to that 2021 date," said Hawes.
About 600 New Orleans rocket builders are employed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the two main NASA contractors at Michoud. Martin is building the capsule, while Boeing is building the SLS rocket, which will power it to Mars.