ANCHORAGE (AP) — When NASA’s new state-of-the-art space capsule returns from its first orbit of the Earth, a Navy ship carrying the name of Alaska’s largest city will be there to pluck it out of the ocean.
The USS Anchorage, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, left San Diego on Monday for the retrieval mission, the Navy said in a release.
Orion will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday morning on an unmanned orbital test flight.
The inaugural Orion will carry no crew during the 4 1/2-hour test flight and be confined to Earth’s orbit. But it will aim for a high point of 3,600 miles on the second loop of the planet, setting the spacecraft up for a 20,000-mph, 4,000-degree re-entry. Splashdown will occur in the Pacific, 600 miles southwest of San Diego.
A specially-trained bridge crew will be on the USS Anchorage for the mission, and the Navy says divers will be in small boats to get close to the capsule once it splashes down. Divers plan to rig tending lines to guide the capsule back to the larger ship.
“It is a very complex, highly-integrated team of Navy divers, meteorologists, flight crews, the well-deck personnel and the bridge watch standers on Anchorage,” Lt. Keith Tate, operations officer, said in a statement. “All of this will hopefully culminate with the historic capsule recovery, which is something the Navy hasn’t been involved with for almost 40 years.”
Crewmembers on the USS Anchorage have been training for the mission for several months.
NASA will track Orion and guide the USS Anchorage to the recovery point then the sailors bringing the capsule back onto the ship. Once it has been secured, the Navy said a team from Lockheed Martin will download data off Orion.
“All of us who have been here since the beginning are excited to see this day come,” Tate said. “We’re hoping for a safe, successful evolution. It’s something historic and we’re all proud to be a part of it.”
The USS Anchorage was commissioned in May 2013 during a ceremony in its namesake city.