“This awesome Pathfinder will never leave planet Earth, yet it is critical to NASA’s deep space exploration mission,” said Julie Bassler, deputy program manager for the NASA SLS stages office at Marshall Space Flight Center. “This physical model is designed to match the size, shape and handling points of the flight core stage that NASA and Boeing are assembling right now at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans. This Pathfinder will serve as our training hardware to significantly reduce the risk of shipping, handling and transporting the real core stage.” U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, a member of the Justice and Science Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives that approves funding for NASA, called the completion of the Pathfinder “a great day for America” and applauded all the workers involved for their effort. “I think for so many Americans, it is easy to take space exploration for granted. I always try to communicate to people how important space exploration is. So many of the things we have today are the result of what has been done in the past,” Aderholt said. Radiance Technologies and Dynetics received the delivery order for the Pathfinder from NASA in February 2016. More than 1,100 suppliers in 40 states are part of the SLS team, and more than 13,000 jobs in Alabama are generated by SLS, according to Bassler. Radiance Technologies CEO Bill Bailey said residents of north Alabama should be proud of the region’s role in space exploration. “I grew up during that period of time when we were sending people to the moon. I was very proud of the fact that Alabama played heavily in the space program. Here we are many years later, and Alabama is still playing very large in the space program,” Bailey said. Thursday’s event was the second of the week for Huntsville-based Dynetics, Inc., which served as the technical lead on the development of the Pathfinder. On Tuesday, a groundbreaking was held in Decatur for the Dynetics Aerospace Structures Complex, which will allow for the development and testing of large aerospace structures in north Alabama. The company, which built a cryogenic tank for NASA’s SLS Advance Booster program in 2012, was recently awarded the contract for the SLS Universal Stage Adapter. “This project has really been a testament to the innovation, commitment and dedication of so many engineers and technicians across north Alabama. We’re really proud that we can provide NASA this article that they can use for operations and training before the real core stage is delivered to the Kennedy Space Center for Exploration Mission-1,” said Robert Wright, Dynetics Space Systems deputy division manager. The target launch date for Exploration Mission-1 is 2019. According to NASA’s website, an unmanned Orion spacecraft will travel thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of about a three-week mission.