It's not a scene out of "Independence Day" — it's an Orion capsule on display at the South Lawn of the White House.
NASA shared photos of the capsule's transfer to the White House lawn in a tweet July 21. The display was part of the Made in America showcase, an annual product display launched by President Donald Trump to highlight American manufacturing. The capsule earned its place thanks to its production by Lockheed Martin in 2011 and 2012 using parts manufactured by more than a thousand companies based in the U.S., NASA officials wrote.
This specific Orion capsule is the only one to have flown so far, during a test flight on Dec. 5, 2014, according another NASA tweet about the display. The vessel was brought to the capital sheathed in plastic, then unwrapped and hoisted over the fence that surrounds the White House.
The capsule can hold four crewmembers and is designed to fly on the Space Launch System (SLS), a giant NASA rocket also still in development. The capsule and rocket make up the foundation of the agency's plan to return humans to space: first to the moon, then to Mars.
Orion's next scheduled trip, another uncrewed test flight — and the SLS's first-ever flight — should take off between December 2019 and June 2020. Until then, engineers are focused on testing individual pieces of the system, like the parachutes that bring the capsule home after a mission's end.
See more photos of Orion's journey on NASA's Flickr page.
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Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.