Clarkson alum will help America explore space again

The Orion spacecraft. Photo: NASA/Daniel Casper

The Orion spacecraft. Photo: NASA/Daniel Casper

Later this year, Herkimer native and 1994 Clarkson University graduate Michael Sarafin will be a big part of America’s return to space exploration.

In (probably) November or early December (more from the Watertown Daily Times), the Orion’s Exploration Flight Test-1 will be launched (a handy fact sheet from NASA). The Orion program began in 2005, and Sarafin came on board two years ago.

The Orion, according to NASA, is

built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities.

Cool. Sarafin, whose brother also works at NASA, will serve as the flight director at the Mission Control Center in Houston. According to the paper, Sarafin will be “responsible for Orion’s Exploration flight Test-1 from start to finish.”

You might be wondering what a flight director does. Here’s more information from a recent Clarkson press release:

Leading a team of flight controllers, support personnel and engineering experts, a flight director has the overall responsibility to manage and carry out space shuttle flights and International Space Station expeditions. A flight director also leads and orchestrates planning and integration activities with flight controllers, payload customers, International Space Station partners and others.

There’s a lot more information about the mission in the WDT article. If the Orion’s first flight is successful, NASA will arrange another unmanned test flight that will last roughly two weeks. If the second test flight is successful, NASA will be ready to send humans into space in Orion. But, Sarafin says “based on funding, we probably won’t be sending humans until 2021.”

So a Clarkson alumnus is attempting to make history at NASA who is also semi-local. This is exciting, both because it recalls the excitement of the Apollo era, and because it’s something new in space exploration. What are your memories and what do you hope to see come out of NASA’s next expedition?

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