NASA’s Super Guppy is different-looking aircraft. The wide-bodied aircraft is used by the space agency to transport components that are too big to fit in a normal cargo plane. The Super Guppy was used to transport parts of the space agency’s huge Saturn V rocket in preparation for the lunar missions in the 1960s and 70s. Now, the aircraft has come to aid NASA’s Artemis Moon missions.
Its latest flight saw the aircraft move the heat shield of Orion spacecraft that will ferry astronauts to the Moon on Artemis missions. The missions are said to take place before 2030. The heat shield skin was moved to the space agency’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
Super Guppy transporting components
The original Guppy aircraft, the Pregnant Guppy, was a Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker converted by the Aero Spacelines company in 1962. After three years, the company followed up with the bigger and more powerful Super Guppy, which packs a 7.6-meter diameter cargo bay. The final version dubbed Super Guppy Turbine took its first flight in 1970.
“Unlike other aircraft, the Super Guppy aircraft has a specially designed hinged nose that opens to an angle of 110 degrees so that cargo can be loaded and unloaded from its belly,” NASA said on its website. The space agency added that the aircraft’s unique shape “also allows it to carry bulky or heavy hardware that would not otherwise fit on traditional aircraft.”
Delaying the Artemis mission
Recently, NASA announced that it won’t be sticking to the timeline decided during the Trump administration for its Artemis mission, which will put the first woman astronaut and first person of color on the lunar surface by 2024. The space agency cited the pandemic as the cause for the delay.
“It’s clear to me the agency will need to make serious changes,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said. He said the Artemis II mission, which is supposed to carry astronauts around the Moon without landing, will now be launched no sooner than May 2024. Artemis III, the first crewed landing on the Moon, will likely happen in 2025.