September 13, 2023
Artemis Mission Manager, NASA
NASA and Space Industry Reporter, Washington Post
Since its 2017 inception, NASA’s Artemis program has worked toward reinstating a human presence on the moon. During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Global Aerospace Summit, Christian Davenport, NASA and space industry reporter at the Washington Post, sat down for a fireside chat with Mike Sarafin, Artemis mission manager at NASA.
Within this conversation, Sarafin shared an update on the Artemis missions, the latest advancements in spacecraft technology, and the innovative systems and capabilities being developed to support future missions.
The Artemis Team Is Addressing the Challenges to Create Long-Term Success for the Launch
Sarafin noted that one challenge the Artemis team faced was “fundamentally [having to] learn how to assemble, integrate, launch, and recover [a] rocket.”
“We had to learn how to put all that together and do it for the first time,” explained Sarafin. “We learned some efficiencies as a result of that.”
The team has been consistently conducting several tests to fly the vehicle through the flight environment in order to understand where certain discrepancies are coming into play. As per Sarafin, the results of these tests are “all in the direction of goodness.”
“Flying the vehicle through the flight environment showed that on the power side of the Orion spacecraft, we have some components that are a little bit glitchy, and we’re still working through some of that,” said Sarafin. “But, the system is designed to handle that. We flew the vehicle in a deep space radiation environment outside of the Earth’s magnetic field, and we demonstrated the ability of the vehicle to self-correct. And it’s designed to do that, in that flight environment.”
Support from International and Commercial Partners Is Helping Artemis Overcome Technical Challenges
With Artemis 3, NASA is looking to put humans on the moon near the South Pole for the first time ever — and put humans on the surface of the moon for the first time in over 50 years.
“There are a number of technical challenges in front of us, and our commercial partners and our international partners are working through that with us,” Sarafin explained. “Some are simple production supply chain challenges, and some are advancing state-of-the-art technology. Things like cryo fluid management in the spacecraft environment and doing space propellant storage and transfers are fundamental to executing the Artemis III mission.”
According to Sarafin, the Artemis team is working with its partners to advance technology as quickly as possible, without taking unnecessary risks along the way. He also emphasized that, despite Apollo’s successful moon landing in 1969, the logistics are unique to this mission.
“I think a lot of people look at this … [and think,] ‘We went to the moon 50 years ago. Why is this so hard?’ But what [we’re] trying to do now is really fundamentally different, in terms of landing in a different spot,” he explained.
Landing on the Moon’s South Pole Poses Challenges and Opportunities
Since landing on the South Pole requires the vehicle to go out of the Earth-moon plane, a mission like this is very difficult to operate. Despite these challenges, traveling to the South Pole region offers significant opportunities for sustainable lunar missions.
“There are resources in the vicinity of the South Pole … that could be used to generate oxygen, water, or propellant in the future,” Sarafin added. “That is part of a larger sustainability approach [so] that we won’t have to transport every single item from Earth … to the moon in order to operate and sustain humans there.”
In addition to advances in sustainability, Sarafin emphasized that a South Pole landing could open the door to opportunities and growth for the U.S. as a whole.
“We are going to a region of the moon that hasn’t been explored by humans before, and that allows us new scientific opportunities,” he explained. “It allows us, from a national standpoint, to demonstrate national posture, partner with friendly nations, and advance technology with our commercial and industry partners.”
Perhaps, most crucially, the latest Artemis mission brings a message of hope and inspiration to the future generation.
“[This mission] affords us the ability to inspire young men and women that want to seek careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, and create that next generation of engineers and mathematicians and scientists,” Sarafin closed.
From the Series