The Next Giant Leap into Space begins in Colorado with Orion test flight

DENVER – December 5, 2014 – Gov. John Hickenlooper proclaimed yesterday Orion Space Exploration Day in Colorado, coinciding with this morning’s test flight of NASA’s Orion crew module, the first spacecraft designed to carry human explorers on deep-space missions beyond the moon, to asteroids, and eventually Mars. 

The uncrewed flight will take Orion to an altitude of approximately 3,600 miles above the Earth’s surface, more than 15 times farther than the International Space Station’s orbital position, before re-entering the atmosphere and landing in the Pacific Ocean four and a half hours later. The test is designed to mimic the extreme re-entry forces and harsh environment that Orion will need to withstand when carrying astronauts on deep-space missions.              

While NASA’s first test flight of the Orion module signifies a huge step for the nation in our return to human spaceflight, its journey really began in Colorado. 

“Colorado has a vibrant and growing aerospace economy, and we believe the next giant leap into space begins here,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We are extremely proud of the state’s vital role in America’s return to human spaceflight.” 

“The Orion project is an amazing achievement in the next generation of spaceflight but also for Colorado, with two of our own companies – Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance – leading the charge,” said U.S. Rep. Perlmutter (CO-07).  “America is a nation of vision and exploration, and NASA’s space program embodies this spirit better than any other.” 

Colorado-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems leads the Orion industry team as the prime contractor building the Orion spacecraft, after winning the contract from NASA in 2006.

Another Colorado company, United Launch Alliance (ULA), launched the Orion spacecraft on a Delta IV Heavy rocket, the world’s largest and most powerful launch vehicle flying today. 

“We want to congratulate all of the companies that are a part of the Orion Test Launch as they are truly leaders when it comes to ushering in a new era of space exploration,” Hickenlooper said. “Orion Space Exploration Day represents our continuing support for the aerospace industry and innovation in Colorado.” 

Leading space projects such as Orion have contributed to close to 170,000 space-related jobs in the state, which is also home to more than 400 space-related companies. Aerospace is one of Colorado’s highest paying industry sectors, with aerospace workers making an average annual salary of $127,000. 

Colorado had an impressive 17 percent growth in aerospace employment during the past decade, and Colorado now ranks first in the nation for the number of private aerospace workers per capita.    

“The innovative men and women who work on the Orion program in Colorado are helping NASA take the first step on the journey to Mars,” said Mike Hawes, Vice President and Orion Program Manager for Lockheed Martin. “Behind every great technology advancement are dedicated, talented, and hardworking people who drive innovation every day, and we’re fortunate to have such an exceptional aerospace workforce in Colorado.” 

Colorado also has the nation’s second most highly educated workforce, a high concentration of major space military centers, and boasts research universities that are leaders in space innovation and producing the next generation of aerospace workers. 

“The Orion spacecraft is a prime example of the breadth of Colorado’s aerospace industry,” said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance. “We are honored to be a part of such a dynamic industry and we are honored to serve the role our company and employees have played in such a historic launch for our nation.” 

“Colorado’s highly skilled workforce, world-class universities, cutting edge research and pioneering spirit have made us an ideal location for the aerospace industry to thrive,” said Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet. “The technology and innovations developed here in Colorado by Colorado-based companies have allowed us to lead the world into the next frontier. Congratulations to all of the Colorado innovators who helped make this day a reality.” 

To learn more about Colorado's space economy, visit the Colorado Space Coalition's website at www.spacecolorado.org

Media Contact: Janet Fritz, on behalf of the Colorado Space Coalition, 303.620.8039 

SOURCE: Colorado Space Coalition