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Washington companies could help NASA get humans to Mars


Washington companies could have a major role in future trips to the moon, an asteroid or Mars. NASA engineers are in Seattle this week meeting with contractors working on the Orion program, designed to launch astronauts far into space, well beyond where the space shuttle traveled.

Orion’s first manned mission is planned for 2020. Toward the end of that mission, the module will reenter the earth’s atmosphere at around 20,000 miles per hour.

At that point, little thrusters, built in Bothell by Systima Technologies, will pop off the module’s nose cover, which is being developed by Janicki Industriesin Sedro Woolley.

Then devices called mortars, built by General Dynamicsnear Tacoma, will deploy the parachutes that let the module drift back to earth.

“So you can see that Washington’s contributions are critical to our reentry and landing systems. Maybe we’ll put a Huskies logo up there or something,” said NASA’s Charlie Lundquist, who manages design of the Orion’s capsule.

NASA says more than a dozen Washington companies are contributing parts to the module and its launch vehicle.

“You know obviously with Boeing and the supply chain for them, Washington has key aerospace talent that we’re tapping into,” Lundquist said.

Orion is a NASA’s successor to the shuttle – not to be confused with the privately built spacecrafts now in the works. Two Seattle billionaires – Paul Allenand Jeff Bezos– are involved in those efforts.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.