NASA Wants to Make Futuristic Airstream for Astronauts

by Lauren Boisvert

NASA is looking to overhaul their iconic Airstream Astrovan for a new generation. They’ve been using the Astrovan to transport astronauts to the launchpad since the 80s. According to Fox News, NASA put out a “request for information (RFI)” for ideas about transportation for the new Artemis crews.

The previous Astronaut Transportation Vehicle was a converted Airstream Excelle RV. The fondly named Astrovan is now on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center. It’s been there since 2011 and the end of the shuttle program.

NASA used a converted Clark-Cortez motorhome to transport astronauts during the Apollo missions, right up until Challenger’s first flight in 1983. It was then retired, and the Airstream was used.

The new vehicle needs to have space for one driver, four astronauts in full suits, and three staff members, according to Fox News. It also needs plenty of space for cargo, including six equipment bags. NASA is also asking for only electric, zero-emissions vehicles.

Currently, SpaceX has been using a Tesla Model X to transport astronauts, but I can’t imagine there’s much room in there. When Jeff Bezos took his Blue Origin flight, he got to the launch pad in a Rivian SUV.

Boeing paired with Mercedes and Airstream to unveil its own Astrovan II in 2019 but hasn’t been able to use it yet. NASA has also considered a complete electric overhaul of the original Astrovan.

To be honest, there’s something comforting about that vintage Airstream; it’s comforting, a throwback to a bygone era of reusable shuttles and big orange fuel tanks. NASA is about looking towards the future, sure; but sometimes you have to hold onto the little things to remember where you came from.

NASA’s Artemis Program

NASA is going to make history again by sending the first woman and person of color to the moon in 2024. The program is called the Artemis Missions. NASA is going back to the moon for “scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation of explorers,” what they call the “Artemis Generation,” according to the mission’s website.

The missions plan to further explore the lunar surface; they will build a base camp on the moon with a Gateway in lunar orbit for about a decade. This is to allow rovers and astronauts to transport safely from orbit to the moon’s surface and back again.

Astronauts will be launched in the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, the Space Launch System. Upon launch, it will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust and includes four main engines, two solid rocket boosters, and a core stage. All these parts release from the main crew vehicle in stages, like most rockets and shuttles.

The new moon missions represent a stepping stone for eventual Mars missions and the goal of putting an astronaut on Mars.