MANSFIELD, Ohio — Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport won national attention after the city of Mansfield and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reached an agreement Wednesday to bring a piece of future space travel through north central Ohio.
A Texas-based Aero Spacelines Super Guppy plane will land on Mansfield Lahm Airport’s airway on Nov. 2 to drop off equipment used in conjunction with the Mars-bound Orion spacecraft, Mayor Tim Theaker announced at a press conference at the airport on Wednesday.
Theaker explained that Mansfield Lahm Airport will serve as a hub for transporting the Orion spacecraft and other equipment to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky through 2021.
The Orion spacecraft is designed to transport up to four astronauts to locations in space further than manned flights have traveled before, including Mars. According to NASA, the craft underwent its first unmanned test flight in December 2014, landing successfully at its target.
During the six-year period, NASA workers will transport parts for Orion, which is scheduled for unmanned flights in 2017 and 2021, from Kennedy Space Center to Mansfield.
According to Super Guppy Program Manager David Elliott, the Guppy will deliver the crew and service modules of the Orion spacecraft to Lahm Airport, where they will be offloaded onto trucks for transport to Sandusky.
Elliott said the Orion spacecraft will not be brought to Mansfield until late 2016 or early 2017.
To accommodate NASA in transporting Orion’s EM1 and EM2 (unmanned exploration missions) parts by truck, Theaker commissioned City Engineer Bob Bianchi to will work with the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Mansfield was chosen, according to Elliott for a number of reasons, including the military presence at Lahm to provide ground and security support.
“But,” Elliott added, “also because the Guppy requires a certain length of runway. So there’s only three runways within range of Plum Brook to drive. So the big thing here is there’s easy access to get between the air field and Plum Brook. This is a very large piece of equipment that’s going to have to go over the road. So all of the power lines have to be moved out of the way and things like that.”
Elliott said the plane may land in Mansfield multiple times, depending on needs from the team working on the Orion in Sandusky.
The mayor and other community members appreciate the cooperation between the city and NASA.
“The fact that we will be a point for them to bring their equipment and bring the spacecraft in and transport it from here to Sandusky is very exciting,” said Theaker. “We’ve been trying to put the airport on the map for a while now. This is just another thing that will.”
Elliott said the public will be able to view the one-of-a-kind Super Guppy aircraft on Nov. 2, when it lands in Mansfield. He said the Super Guppy flying into Mansfield is the latetst and the last Super Guppy operating in the nation. Three are housed in European museums and another in Pima Air and Space Museum in Tuscon, Arizona.
“The Guppy’s an awesome aircraft. It’s very unique,” said Elliott.
Based in El Paso, Texas, the large, guppy-shaped plane is used for transporting large pieces of equipment for NASA and other aircrafts, according to Elliott. He said it has landed in airports all across the United States, including New York City, Denver, and Los Angeles.
Super Guppy Loadmaster Jon Myrick said the reason he, Elliott and Contractor Jack Roberts were present at Wednesday’s press conference was to make sure the site could sustain the Super Guppy’s operations over the years.
“They’ve (Mansfield Lahm and 179th Airlift Wing staff) exceeded our expectations. It’s been great, just the level of support here. It’s just confirmed what we already know, the Super Guppy will be able to sustain operations here for a prolonged period of time,” said Myrick.