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D-FW companies play a role in NASA’s Artemis program’s success

The launch of NASA’s Artemis I earlier this week involved a 332-foot-tall rocket and a capsule containing mannequins that will take a 25-day test flight around the moon before returning to Earth in December.

But why go back to the moon? And who is helping with the overall mission to send humans there?

It turns out every state in the U.S. has contributed to the Artemis program’s success. Texas companies in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and more contributed parts and helped develop the software necessary to facilitate the successful launch.

Why go to the moon again?

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans to land on the moon. The U.S.’s last manned mission to the moon was in late 1972.

A lot has changed in 50 years of science, said Matt Siegler, an adjunct professor at SMU. While the earth can erode and shift over time, covering up its past, the moon is more like a big tape recorder, chronicling the history of the solar system on its surface.

Scientists can study the moon’s tape recorder to answer questions about the earth. If scientists understand how water in the form of ice got to the moon, they can figure out how water made it to Earth as well. They also want to know whether humans could survive on the moon.

“Ice, and other mysteries about how the solar system formed, have advanced a lot through the years,” said Siegler, who is also a research scientist at the nonprofit Planetary Science Institute. “So now we have a lot of new questions that can be answered by going to the moon.”

While the Artemis program’s goal is to return humans to the moon, NASA can’t accomplish that alone.

“We have a bunch of engineers that have worked in NASA for a long time, and now they need to build this new rocket,” Siegler said. “But that core group can only do so much, and we can only afford such a large group of core people just sitting there, ready at will.”

To make a moon mission feasible and affordable, NASA contracts work out to companies that work on separate parts of the project. NASA can then act like a control center, putting the pieces together so everything is ready for liftoff.

Nuts and bolts of liftoff

NASA's new moon rocket lifts off from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape...
NASA’s new moon rocket lifts off from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022. This launch is the first flight test of the Artemis program. (AP Photo/John Raoux )(John Raoux / ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Texas companies contributed to three major prongs of the Artemis program, among others. One of those prongs, Orion, is the crew capsule launched on Wednesday. It is meant to someday carry humans on long-term, deep-space missions.

North Richland Hills business SeyTec contributed parts like nuts, bolts and fasteners that help hold a space capsule like Orion together. “This is not Home Depot, Lowe’s type of stuff,” said SeyTec general manager Matt West.

West said NASA’s efforts to return to the moon and eventually to Mars are promising for potential commercial opportunities. He added that the Artemis program could serve as fuel for the next generation of space travelers.

“We certainly appreciate the aspect that it is inspirational to the next generation of kids,” West said. “You’re reigniting an interest in space travel for our younger generation. There’s nothing about it that we’re not excited about, frankly.”

The second prong is the program’s Space Launch System or SLS. It is the rocket capable of launching capsules like Orion into space.

Madison Aerospace, an aerospace hardware distributor based in Haltom City, contributed parts to the construction of the Artemis Program’s SLS rocket. Craig Hutchins, the company’s general manager, said the program’s focus on space travel is exciting. “It’s nice to see that we’re focusing on trying to explore, a little bit more than we have been in the past,” he said.

Finally, the program’s Exploration Ground Systems is based at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and makes sure that NASA’s infrastructure and facilities are able to safely launch spacecraft moving forward.

Uncharted territory

The crewless Orion capsule will return to Earth by splashing down in the Pacific Ocean in December. If this “dress rehearsal” is successful, NASA hopes to conduct a second launch in a few years with a crew onboard. In Artemis II, the crew will orbit the moon without landing, setting the stage for a third launch that will hopefully see the first woman land on the moon.

NASA, in partnership with local companies, is working to move that goal forward. With it comes a fresh understanding of the moon, and our home planet as well.

“It’s an unexplored area,” said Julio Cesar Benavides, a professor of instruction in the University of Texas at Arlington’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department. “There’s a lot of opportunities for discovery at that point.”

Adithi Ramakrishnan is a science reporting fellow at The Dallas Morning News. Her fellowship is supported by the University of Texas at Dallas. The News makes all editorial decisions.

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