COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — Many are aware that NASA launched its Space Launch System rocket and uncrewed Orion spacecraft into space early Wednesday morning as part of its Artemis I moon mission. What many in Columbus don’t know and may be excited to learn is that the same type of engine system used on the rocket is on display at the Coca-Cola Space Science Center (CCSSC).
Dr. Shawn Cruzen, a professor of astronomy at Columbus State University and the executive director of the CCSSC, explained that on the bottom of the Space Launch System are four large engines.
“So those are old space shuttle engines,” he said. “So the same engines that they used to use on the space shuttle, they’ve modified and reused those engines for this new rocket. And we have a piece of that kind of an engine, a big nozzle, sitting in our exhibit gallery here at the Space Science Center.”
The engine nozzle at the museum has been on nine missions, according to Cruzen.
“It flew on four of America’s five space shuttles, so it flew on Endeavor and Atlantis and Discovery and Columbia,” he said. “The only one it didn’t fly on was Challenger. So it’s a veteran of the American space program. The nozzle that sits in our gallery, the component that sits in our gallery, was on the shuttle the first time the space shuttle ever docked with the Russian Space Station Mir. That’s a really historic mission. It had a really historic part in the shuttle program.”
Cruzen said NASA originally planned to give engine nozzles like this one to museums all over America. But then, they decided to keep and use them, making them very rare to see on display. Cruzen said such engine nozzles can only be seen at NASA facilities, the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and at the CCSSC.
He gave an overview of Artemis I.
“So this is a mission called the Artemis mission, and it is America’s endeavor to return astronauts to the moon,” he said. “And this is the mission where, hopefully, their plan is to put the first female and the first African American back on the surface of the moon by 2024.”
If all goes as planned, Orion will eventually carry people.
“And it has boosted that capsule into a trajectory that’s taking it around the moon right now,” Cruzen said.
Orion’s current journey is expected to take about 26 days.