By Ryan Bradley, senior editor
FORTUNE -- The future of manned missions into outer space begins atop a slab of red rock in Littleton, Colo. The Space Operations Simulation Center, owned and operated by Lockheed Martin (No. 58 on the Fortune 500), is 40,576 square feet of indoor test bays, one of which features a 50-foot robot arm that can move 2,000 pounds. There, engineers test navigation equipment in a mock zero-gravity environment for the Orion capsule (pictured), which, one day, could take humans to Mars.
By the numbers:
1,700 Feet: Depth of bedrock below the Littleton center. The building sits on a cushion of soil above rock, but its robot arm is sunk in the vein to keep it from moving.
$1 billion: Annual budget for NASA's Orion capsule program, $700 million of which goes to Lockheed (LMT). The company employs about 1,400 for its design and construction.
2017: Year the Orion is scheduled to travel unmanned to the moon. The capsule is unique in its ability to fly missions both autonomously and with a crew of four.
Source: Space Operations Simulation Center, Lockheed Martin
This story is from the May 21, 2012 issue of Fortune.
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