SEATTLE — In a few days, we hope to see the launch of the Artemis 1 rocket for a trip to the Moon.
NASA had to delay the last launch due to Hurricane Nicole making landfall on the east coast of Florida.
The launch is scheduled for Tuesday, November 16 at 10:04 p.m. PT.
One of the mission’s main planners is Nujoud Merancy, a native of Tumwater, NASA’s chief of exploration and mission planning. Merancy works with a team to coordinate all elements of NASA missions, including Artemis 1. Merancy sat down with KIRO 7’s Ranji Sinha in the studio before the final launch attempt.
Here are some of the questions and answers edited for brevity.
Ranji: I am Ranji Sinha here at KIRO 7 studios joined by Nujoud Merancy from NASA. Please join us here in person. I spoke to you on Zoom, but it’s nice to meet the woman behind the mission.
Nujoud: One of many.
Ranji: Nujoud, first of all tell us your official title with NASA.
Nujoud: Right now, I’m the head of the exploration mission planning office at Johnson Space Center, so we’re the team that set up and integrated the mission.
Ranji: Nujoud, I’m sorry, I’m just so frustrated — rubbed (launch) again! Pushed and delayed again! This time because of a hurricane!
Nujoud: It happens, right? We launch over the ocean for a reason, so you’re safe, you’re away from it all, but it puts you at the mercy of Florida hurricanes. Unfortunately that’s what happened this time, but hopefully we’ll be ready to go again very soon.
Ranji: Why are we going back (to the moon)? What is our goal?
Nujoud: We return to the Moon for many reasons. There are three main categories: first, scientific interest. The ability to study the Moon, to study the processes on the Moon, to study the things that have impacted the Moon over time.
Nujoud: The technology developing these systems is very difficult. We tend to push the limits of technology, and this technology also returns to benefit the Earth.
Nujoud: Third, just the economic benefit of going, driving programs and all the amazing companies working in the aerospace industry today. It stimulates the economy, so many different reasons.
Ranji: The Apollo missions went to visit the Moon. We visited. This time we will stay. Is it correct?
Nujoud: It’s correct. Artemis 1 is the first of we hope to be many decades of space exploration. So starting with the Moon, building the cislunar platform systems for our gateway orbit lab and the surface systems so we can do deep space exploration…to go to Mars and continue the space exploration.
It’s not necessarily about going to the Moon and then going to Mars. It would actually cost more performance, thruster, things like that. But many of the systems we need on Mars are analogous to what we need on the Moon. Nuclear fission energy, potentially long-lived habitation. Much of the technology we develop for the Moon would then be useful for Mars. We can do a lot of work on these lunar missions to feed into the Mars missions down the road.
Ranji: How is it going for you, with your team, up to this point to throw?
Nujoud: We have a rocket, a space launch system, we have an Orion spacecraft, we have ground exploration systems, which is the Kennedy Space Center. recovery teams. Putting all of these pieces together is really mission planning. Where are we going how long and why. So our team is actually working with all the programs in all the centers to bring together what is the mission that we do. We make sure that it is a pilotable mission, for example.
Ranji: So no pressure — little stress?
Nujoud: It’s literally magic.
Ranji: You are from our region. You grew up in Tumwater.
Nujoud: That’s right Tumwater, Washington.
Ranji: How were you inspired to join NASA?
Nujoud: I always loved airplanes, spaceflight, reading about Apollo as a kid – really science and engineering in general. Growing up, I really wanted to get into aerospace. I went to the University of Washington and you graduated and you can get jobs in this industry right out of college. That’s what I did. I first started working on the space station, the International Space Station out of college, and moved to Houston, Texas.
Ranji: This one (attempted launch) will potentially be a night launch and that’s cool. Tell people why, because a lot of people like you have said, “Oh, I can’t see him during the day.” Why is it cooler?
Nujoud: Literally, the launch time is based on where the Earth has rotated and where the Moon is. I actually like night launches a lot because you see that engine running around for a long, long time. If you’re in a daytime launch, you’ll lose sight of it after a few minutes out of the pad. It’s really exciting. I’m sure my stomach will churn.
Ranji: Tricky question: Come on, when are we getting to Mars? What is the year, what time is it?
Nujoud: There are so many systems we need to build and develop that I’m not going to commit to a year. Hopefully by the 2030s we have built all the systems to get to Mars.
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