NASA’s Sarasota Link

Todd Proa Patrick Rodi

Patrick Rodi

If NASA ever decides to shoot humans into the void beyond the moon, they’ll be using a special, Apollo-like vehicle called Orion.  One of Orion’s key players is Sarasota Riverview alumnus Patrick Rodi, who is working to encourage high school students to follow in his footsteps and pursue off-world adventures.  Rodi and his wife, Yvonne, have established a scholarship fund so that children can make good money and have good jobs so that they can give back to the community.  To encourage student enthusiasm for science, Rodi and his wife established a $500 scholarship fund at Riverview 20 years ago, with graduating seniors set on earning degrees in aerospace, mechanical or civil engineering at one or more than four dozen approved colleges are eligible.

This Thursday, the Orion is expected to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center on its first trial run.  It will be an unmanned, four-hour, 3,600-mile-high orbital exercise called the “Experimental Test Flight 1”, or ETF-1.  This would be roughly 15 times further out than the International Space Station’s routine path.  Orion will be perched atop a Delta IV rocket stack to avoid the liftoff debris that had previously doomed the space shuttle program.  The astronaut module will pop braking chutes after atmospheric re-entry and splash down into the Pacific Ocean.  The EFT-1 involves an unmanned Orion model designed for a crew of four.  The followup mission, a three-week orbit in 2018, will involve a larger spacecraft and bigger boosters.  The first manned launch, a 28-day flight with an astronaut crew of six, is planned for 2020.

According to Rodi, Orion will give us the chance to go into deep space.  To stage those sorts of long-distance missions, however, scientists will need to resolve biological issues, such as how much cosmic radiation astronauts can tolerate outside of low-Earth orbit.  However, Orion is a major step in that direction.  Among other things, Rodi coordinated a troubleshooting team to guarantee that Orion doesn’t get incinerated during its 20,000 mph, 4,000-degree re-entry burn.  Chances are that Orion will encounter other challenges, including micrometeroid impact and space junk littering the cosmos.  It’s been estimated by the Government Accountability Office that Orion and its affiliated launch systems could cost anywhere from $19 billion to $22 billion by 2021.

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