Structural construction has been competed on NASA's next-generation manned spacecraft, which is now undergoing final assembly. Lockheed Martin says its technicians at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans have finished work on the inner capsule or pressure vessel of the Orion Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2) spacecraft, which is now at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Billed as the world's only exploration-class spaceship, the EM-2 has been under construction since the first welds were made in February at MIchoud. The inner vessel is the core component of the Orion, providing the astronauts with a pressurized environment while protecting them from the harsh conditions of deep space.

To date, only one Orion capsule has been sent into space on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) on December 5, 2014. A second, more advanced Orion is currently being prepared for unmanned Exploration Mission-1. It's scheduled to fly in 2020 using the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. EM-2, which will send four astronauts on a lunar flyby for a maximum of 21 days, is scheduled for sometime in 2023.

According to Lockheed, the pressure vessel consists of seven large, machined aluminum alloy pieces welded together to form the airtight compartment. After completion, it was shipped by ground to Kennedy, where it arrived on August 24 at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for assembly and integration.

"We're all taking extra care with this build and assembly, knowing that this spaceship is going to take astronauts back to the Moon for the first time in four decades," says Matt Wallo, senior manager of Lockheed Martin Orion Production at Michoud. "It's amazing to think that, one day soon, the crew will watch the sun rise over the lunar horizon through the windows of this pressure vessel. We're all humbled and proud to be doing our part for the future of exploration."

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