NASA’s beloved ’83 Astrovan may be refurbished for the next lunar mission

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The most famous National Aeronautics and Space Administration vehicle on earth, the original Astronaut Transport Van, was retired in 2011 at the conclusion of the space shuttle program. Now the 1983 Airstream could return—or not—depending on what comes of NASA’s search for a new Crew Transportation Vehicle (CRT) for the Artemis mission, which will return humans to the Moon.

NASA is accepting contract proposals (Notice ID NNK21ZES001L) for a vehicle designed to transport Artemis astronauts nine miles from the operations center to the launch pad at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The contract also includes a “repair/refurbishment option” of the Government-owned custom Airstream that was used for nearly 30 years.

The Astrovan II, also built by Airstream, is currently in use for launch-pad transportation. However, since astronauts are known to be deeply entrenched in tradition (superstitious, even), it makes sense that the original CRT—built from a 27-foot Excella motorhome—would be among the transport considerations. With that said, NASA/Kennedy Space Center has opened the search to all companies and designs.

In addition to specific size and equipment specifications, like doors that are 24 to 36 inches wide, the Artemis CTV must be capable of accommodating four fully suited astronauts, as well as a driver, suit technician, flight operations director, and protective services agent. Following the EV trend, the CRT also must be “a zero-emission vehicle, including battery-electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or fuel-cell electric.”

Submissions are due by October 25. NASA has set a delivery date for the Artemis CTV of “no later than June 2023.”

Space Shuttle Discovery astronauts ride in the astrovan
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The last manned mission to the Moon was Apollo 17 in December 1972; in all, 12 men have walked on the lunar surface.

The primary goal of the Artemis mission is to return humans to the Moon, specifically the lunar south pole, by 2024. Artemis promises to include the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and use innovative technologies to explore more of its surface than ever before. NASA is collaborating with commercial and international partners and plans to establish the first long-term presence on the Moon.

Once the plans are complete, the mission will begin with a nine-mile ride inside the Artemis CRT.

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