Skilled to Work: Marshall engineers work with Michoud technicians to build

Core Stage One is nearing completion at the Michoud Assembly Facility and Core Stage Two is already in production.

Posted: Nov 21, 2019 7:15 PM
Updated: Nov 22, 2019 9:37 AM

For much of 2019, Yassaman Liaghai has been traveling between the Rocket City and the Big Easy. The aerospace engineer is one of dozens employed by Boeing to help build the various stages of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS).

It's the rocket that will eventually carry the first woman and the next man to the Moon.

Core Stage One for the Space Launch System nears completion. Core Stage One for the Space Launch System nears completion.

Liaghati recently marked her seventh year working for Boeing and said having people like her who are willing to do so much traveling is key to keeping the massive project on schedule.

"It does definitely help the rocket get built, but it can be rather difficult. So we try to, especially on the families, so we try to alternate and have people that are willing to be stationed up here," she said. 

Back in February, more engineers started coming down to the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans from the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).

"It's important to bridge the distance between the Huntsville design team and the production engineers here on the floor at MAF," said Hansel Gill, an aerospace engineer in NASA's SLS Stages Element Office.

"Seeing the vehicle, seeing the flight hardware up-close and personal, you have a better perspective of the progress that’s being made and the technical challenges that the team is working through," he added.

Since the MAF was converted from building external tanks for the Space Shuttle program to constructing sections of the SLS, it's been a new challenge for everyone involved.

"I think what we’re experiencing is a tremendous learning curve: taking the lessons that we’ve learned and worked through from Core Stage One and then applying them to future builds. You're already seeing quite a bit better efficiencies in some of the sub-assemblies," said Gill.

"We’re building the second vehicle much faster than the first one. And I imagine the third and the fourth will continue to accelerate in those lessons we learned all the way down," said Robert Champion, the director of the MAF.

Champion spent most of his more than 30-year career with NASA at MSFC. He was appointed as MAF Director over the summer.

As he oversees much of the construction for the Artemis program, he told WAAY 31 News that they are constantly working to make sure they have the right tradesmen to fill all of their positions.

"We always talk with the students, colleges, universities, local colleges all over trying to bring talent into this and grow the local pool," said Champion. "Because the people that built the external tank back in the shuttle, a lot of them have retired. We've had to grow and strengthen the workforce. So it’s a collaborative effort with our partners here and our primes and NASA."

As the facility continues to grow, some of the talent comes from families whose participation in the space program spans generations.

"My wife’s father worked on Gemini, Saturn and the Shuttle, Skylab. So Austin’s grandfather, if you count down through all of us, we’ve been at the business for quite a while," said Aubrey Stewart, an SLS Enginge Section Technician and IBT Leader.

Aubrey's son, Austin, said his grandfather, Peter Braccio, was an inspiration for him to join the aerospace industry as well.

"When he worked in Mission Control, I think that was pretty interesting because not a lot of people get to say that: that they knew someone who worked Mission Control in Houston," said Austin.

The father and son duo from Huntsville said being able to work alongside the technicians in New Orleans to build the different stages of the SLS has been an invaluable experience.

"Coming down here has really helped me see that just because you design something, it might still need to change. The shop floor is very fluid. Things happen that are kind of unpredictable. So you have to be able to design for redundancy," said Austin Stewart.

The technicians who spoke with WAAY 31 said it's also been very beneficial for them as well.

"You’re in there every day, you see it happening, you see it coming together and you can kind of foresee things that might cause an issue later on and you can bring that up earlier and then maybe we can sequence things around a little bit different. Just kind of make things a little smoother," said Nick Acosta Mora, a fabrication specialist with Boeing. 

Core Stage One is scheduled to be complete by the end of 2019. It will then travel to Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi for testing in the spring of 2020.

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