Former astronaut to UTC Aerospace employees: "We can do human exploration of Mars now"

Tony Antonelli, director of Lockheed Martin and former NASA astronaut, center, answers a question while he and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, left, and Erica Abrahamson, UTAS-ECLSS deputy program manager, right, participate in a news briefing regarding the UTC Aerospace Systems' role in NASA's Orion missions at the company's facility in Windsor Locks on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Tony Antonelli, director of Lockheed Martin and former NASA astronaut, center, answers a question while he and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, left, and Erica Abrahamson, UTAS-ECLSS deputy program manager, right, participate in a news briefing regarding the UTC Aerospace Systems' role in NASA's Orion missions at the company's facility in Windsor Locks on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Windsor Locks — Former NASA astronaut Dominic "Tony" Antonelli told a room full of employees involved in NASA's efforts to send humans deeper into space than ever before that "we can do human exploration of Mars now."

"We've already demonstrated the capability to keep people alive in space for 17 years continuously, so I know we can do it for three years," said Antonelli, who is now director of advanced programs at Lockheed Martin, referring to the minimum time it would take to reach Mars, conduct mission tasks and then return to Earth.

In 2019, NASA's deep space aircraft Orion is expected to take its first flight, traveling thousands of miles beyond the moon. That crewless mission is expected to take three weeks.

In Connecticut, about 100 employees at UTC Aerospace Systems' facility in Windsor Locks are involved with the Orion program. The company held a media briefing there Tuesday to highlight its work on the project to date and to recognize the employees involved. U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, was on hand Tuesday to tour the facility and receive an update on the project.

The employees in Windsor Locks are doing work central to an Orion crewed mission, planned for the early 2020s, namely developing the equipment to keep astronauts alive. The Orion can carry up to four astronauts, and the first crewed mission will send astronauts to the vicinity of the Moon to build and test the systems needed for deep space destinations, including Mars.

"Somebody is literally counting on you for their next breath. That pretty much sums it up," Antonelli said to the employees. "There are folks right now in orbit that are counting on you for their next breath, so it's important work."

The equipment being developed at Windsor Locks includes systems to provide oxygen to the crew, provide ventilation and remove carbon dioxide and trace contaminants. Most of the hardware is between the preliminary and detailed design phases, according to Diego Mugurusa, the lead systems engineer at UTC Aerospace Systems for the Orion program.

UTC Aerospace Systems' facility in Illinois has developed equipment to control heat and to distribute and manage power for the crewless Orion mission.

The company is no stranger to space exploration, having worked with NASA for more than 50 years. Its life support systems kept John Glenn alive as he first orbited the earth and enabled astronaut Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, officials said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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