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NASA's goofy Super Guppy plane delivers Orion moon capsule for testing

NASA doesn't just have nifty spacecraft. It also flies one of the world's wildest airplanes.

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The Super Guppy landed in Ohio on Sunday with an Orion capsule on board.

NASA/Bridget Caswell

You can't just pack an Orion moon capsule into a 747 and send it off. Instead, you need a Super Guppy. NASA used the very special airplane this week to transport the spacecraft built for its Artemis 1 moon mission from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the Plum Brook Station in Ohio. 

The Super Guppy is quite a looker. Its odd design is meant to accommodate large pieces of equipment that can't fit in a normal cargo plane. NASA cracked open the nose of the Super Guppy on Monday to reveal the capsule inside. 

The Super Guppy airplane opens on the nose end for large cargo.

NASA/Bridget Caswell

"Although there are other aircraft capable of carrying more weight than the Super Guppy, very few come close to its internal dimensions," NASA said. The airplane, which NASA bought used, has been in the agency's fleet since 1997. It replaced an earlier version that had been in service for over three decades. 

The Orion capsule is about to undergo some extreme testing, including a thermal test that mimics space conditions. "During this phase, the spacecraft will be subjected to extreme temperatures, ranging from -250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, to replicate flying in and out of sunlight and shadow in space," said NASA in a news release Monday.

The testing marks one more step in NASA's plans to return humans to the moon by 2024 through the Artemis program. Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed mission meant to put the rocket system and capsule through their paces before astronauts get on board. Artemis 2 will be the first crewed mission on NASA's schedule. 

This won't be the last time the Super Guppy is called on to support Artemis. After the Ohio tests, Orion will need to return home to Kennedy Space Center for its eventual launch into space.