Skip to main content

Physics & Astronomy

Touching Orion

Students get exclusive tour of NASA’s next spacecraft

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Elizabeth Young, Carthage College, for The Kenosha News. See it on the Kenosha News website (subscription required).

In July 2011, Carthage students Amber Bakkum and Steven Mathe watched Atlantis STS-135 thunder into orbit, witnessing the historic final launch of the American space shuttle program.

On Monday, they climbed into the future of American space exploration. Bakkum, Mathe, and other members of the Carthage Microgravity Team got a sneak peek at the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle during an exclusive tour of Lockheed Martin’s Exploration Development Lab.

“I think it was an honor and a privilege to see the end of an era and the beginning of an era all in the same year,” said Bakkum, a senior from Winthrop Harbor, Ill.

Orion, being developed by Lockheed Martin for NASA, is billed as the next generation of manned spacecraft. It includes a crew module for up to four astronauts, a service module providing in-space propulsion for orbital transfer, and a launch abort system that would allow for a safe landing even in a launch emergency. Originally part of NASA’s now-canceled Constellation Program, Orion is central to NASA’s plans to explore beyond low Earth orbit and into deep space. A test flight is planned for late 2013.

“This vehicle is designed to follow the shuttle into space,” said Larry Price, deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin. “The shuttle was a marvelous machine, but it’s a quarter of a million pounds, so it’s very heavy. It takes a lot of energy to get it out of Earth’s orbit. … The idea behind Orion is to make it as small and light as possible. … Orion allows for missions deeper into the solar system than we have ever gone before.”

The Carthage team was invited to the lab by Jonathan Braun, mechanical engineer, propulsion analysis with Lockheed Martin. Braun worked with the 2010 Carthage Microgravity Team on project studying propellant slosh in Orion. While in Lockheed Martin’s lab, students sat inside crew simulation mockups used to evaluate Orion’s instrument placement and displays.

“The space shuttle is my generation,” Lockheed Martin’s senior manager for business development Joe Mayer said to the students. “Apollo was my parents’ generation. Orion is your generation.”

Carthage students continued their tours on Tuesday, visiting facilities at Johnson Space Center, where they saw the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, Mission Control for the International Space Station, and the historic Apollo Mission Control Center.

Seeing the command center for the Apollo missions, including Apollo 13, was a highlight for John Robinson, a junior from Kenosha. “We were seeing all this history just coming together,” he said. “It was very cool to be there.”

Kevin Lubick, a junior from DeForest, agreed.

“I go about my day-to-day life and I forget that we have people in space doing this incredible scientific research,” said Lubick. “Being in the Mission Control Center reminded me that we’re pretty darn cool as far as a species goes.”

  • Quick Facts

    • Carthage is named a Best Midwestern College by The Princeton Review (2021), a designation given to only 25 percent of four-year schools.

    • The Tower, Carthage’s newest residence hall, provides some of the best views on campus — if not in the Midwest! In addition to #carthageviews of the lake from seven stories up, residents enjoy suite-style living and two floors of shared campus spaces for gaming, cooking, group meetings, or quiet studying. Learn more about all housing options.

    • You’re going to need brain fuel. Grab a morning coffee and a snack and Starbucks or Einstein Bros. Bagels. Later, meet friends at “The Caf,” where the specials change daily but the staples are constant, or swing through “The Stu” for wings, a burrito, or a sub. A new option, Carthage Cash, even covers some off-campus meals.

    • More than 90% of Carthage alumni report that they have secured a job or are continuing their studies six months after graduation. Visit The Aspire Center.

    • 91% of employers say critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills matter more than your major when it comes to career success. Learn more about how the liberal arts prepare you for a successful career.

    • Lots of schools wear the four-year label. Carthage stands behind it. More than 90% of Carthage graduates earn their degrees in four years. Learn more

    • Computer science students watch Prof. Mark Mahoney’s recorded lecturers in their free time, so he can nearby “when they do their real learning,” he says. He has company: Physics professor Brant Carlson’s quantum mechanics video playlist has been viewed more than 170,000 times. 

    • Oscars. Emmys. Tonys. Golden Globes. The playwrights we’ve brought in have them. Each year, the Carthage Theatre Department commissions an original script by a renowned playwright for its New Play Initiative. Carthage students then work with the writer to stage it. 

    • Carthage has ranked as a top Fulbright producer for four of the past five years. Read about Carthage Fulbright winners.

    • Things look new at Carthage because they are. Our science center, student union, athletic and recreation center, and numerous residence halls have all been constructed or newly renovated in the last 15 years.

    • Carthage offers majors, minors, and concentrations in more than 50 areas of study, from marketing to neuroscience, nursing to music theatre.

    • Our Summer Undergraduate Research Experience offers select students a research budget, one-on-one mentoring with a professor, and 10 weeks of analyzing, deciphering — and getting paid.

    • So the lake is kind of a focal point, but there’s a lot more to love about our campus — like the fact that our more than 80-acre campus is also an arboretum and wildlife sanctuary. Focused on keeping campus lush forever, we plant between 50 and 75 new trees every year from a variety of species.

    • Carthage was founded in 1847. That’s more than 170 years of leaders, makers, and go-getters going out and going forth. Read more about Carthage’s rich history.

    • More than 90 percent of students receive financial aid. Carthage awards more than $20 million in scholarship and grant assistance. That includes $5.5 million in competitive scholarships in business, mathematics, science, languages, the fine arts, leadership, and overall academic strength. Learn what’s available.

    • Abraham Lincoln was an early Trustee of the College, and U.S. Secretary of State John Hay was a Carthage alum. The two still have a proud place on our campus. Spend some time with them in our Sesquicentennial Plaza. On warm days you’ll find professors leading their classes here.

    • Come to Carthage; hear yourself think — think … think …
      Legend has it that Sesquicentennial Plaza holds a perfect echo. Just stand with both your feet on the “1847,” face Straz, and start talking. “You’re the only one who can hear you, but you’ll be crystal clear,” promises English and theatre alumna Mikaley Osley.

    • Our Great Lake provides Carthage students with some amazing views. Think classes on the beach, lake views from the lab, and sunrises from your dorm room. “I love waking up in the morning with the sun shining off the lake. Nothing compares to the view in the morning,” recalls biology and neuroscience major Ann O’Leary.

    • Carthage awards up to 35 Presidential Scholarships each year, which range from $22,000 up to full tuition. Learn more.

    • For a full decade, NASA has selected Carthage students to conduct research aboard its zero-gravity aircraft. Lately, the stakes have risen. A team of underclassmen is grinding to prepare a tiny but powerful Earth-imaging satellite for launch to the International Space Station. Learn more about the space sciences at Carthage

    • Carthage is the only college or university in the Midwest where every freshman takes a full-year sequence of foundational texts of the Western intellectual tradition. Learn about Intellectual Foundations.

    • With a student-faculty ratio of 13:1, your professors will know who you are. They will also know who you want to be — and how to get you there. Meet our faculty.

    • There are more than 130 student organizations on campus, from Amnesty International to Fencing to Frisbee, Chem Club to Stand Up Comedy. See how easy it is to get involved.

    • True story: There are more than 27 art galleries, a dozen museums, and nine theatres within 25 miles of Carthage. Some highlights: The nationally recognized Racine Art Museum, the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Learn more about our location.

    • What’s better than one professor? Two professors. What’s better than two professors? Two professors from totally different fields teaching a single class. There’s debate. Discussion. Differing perspectives. This is where the magic happens. That’s why every student takes a Carthage Symposium.

    • You can’t hide here — not with only 17 other students in the classroom with you. That’s going to be rough some mornings. But later, when you’re able to argue your point of view thoughtfully, express your opinions succinctly, and meet challenges head-on, without fear … Yep, you’ll thank us.

    • Carthage is ranked in the Top 5 in the country for student participation in short-term study abroad. Every J-Term, hundreds of students travel all over the world on faculty-led study tours. Imagine a month in Sweden, Rome, Cuba, Senegal, India, Japan …