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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine came to the Marshall Space Flight Center Friday to discuss Huntsville’s role in the next mission to the moon.
He told the crowd that Marshall Space Flight Center will manage the lunar lander program. Called Artemis, it is set to get Americans back on the moon for the first time in decades. The mission also will include the first-ever woman on the moon.
In July, NASA tabbed Marshall's Dr. Lisa Watson-Morgan, a Huntsville native, to oversee the development of the lander that will carry astronauts from the lunar gateway to the surface of the moon. This project will pave the way for a long-term human presence on the moon.
Bridenstine made it clear, the Marshall Space Flight Center was selected for the project because of their work in propulsion systems. He says propulsion is crucial for the success of the lunar lander. The spacecraft must make safe liftoffs and landings, going from the space station, known as the lunar gateway, to the surface of the moon.
"The Orion module will go up and dock with gateway, we, the human landing system, will go up and dock. Then, the human landing system will ferry astronauts back and forth, so it's really a ferry system," Dr. Watson-Morgan said.
What makes this mission so different is the lunar lander will make multiple trips back and forth to the moon and gateway. NASA's website in fact has its own section, dedicated to the propulsion history of the Marshall Space Flight Center. It says the center has helped develop "every major propulsion system in NASA's history."
Dr. Watson-Morgan says exploring the south pole of the moon, that is believed to have water and ice, will be an entirely new challenge.
"The sun angles are totally different so landing is going to be completely different, It's not going to be anything like what we experienced before, totally different environment there," Dr. Watson-Morgan said.
Even though Huntsville is leading the lunar lander program, there was a strong emphasis on working together with other NASA stations and private industries. Dr. Watson-Morgan said there will be a team of 360 people, 220 will be spread out to other NASA stations, including 87 positions from the Johnson Space Flight Center in Houston, Texas.