A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander lifts off from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:05 a.m. EST on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. As part of NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative and Artemis campaign, Intuitive Machines’ first lunar mission will carry NASA science and commercial payloads to the Moon to study plume-surface interactions, space weather/lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and a communication and navigation node for future autonomous navigation technologies. (NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NASA’s bid to return humans to the moon is gaining momentum, and Maryland’s contributions play a large role in every aspect of the challenge. From training to services, and preliminary lunar science packages to the astronauts themselves, there’s a direct link.

The Nova-C lunar lander built by Texas-based Intuitive Machines launched on Feb. 15 as a precursor to delivering regular commercial lunar payloads. Its suite of technology includes two instruments developed by Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

The first is radio-wave observations at the lunar surface of the photoelectron sheath, or ROLSES, which will help determine how natural and human-generated radio wave activity near the moon’s surface interacts with and could interfere with science conducted there.

The second, called a laser retroreflector array, is a collection of eight retroreflectors that enable precision laser ranging and will function as a permanent location marker on the moon for communication and navigation for future autonomous navigation technologies.

“These deliveries will not only conduct new science at the moon, but are also supporting a growing commercial space economy while showing the strength of American technology and innovation,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “We have much to learn … that will help us shape the future of human exploration for the Artemis Generation.”    

Service provider

KBR Wyle Services of Fulton will be one of the private companies helping crewed Artemis missions get to the moon.

Selected by NASA to provide mission and flight crew operations support for the International Space Station, KBR Wyle will also provide capability development and execution, as well as avionics and software support, which will extend to support for Artemis activities.

NASA also will use this support to define requirements related to potential new programs such as human research, commercial crew and cargo, commercial low Earth orbit development, advanced exploration systems, and advanced technology and research.           

The contract runs from Oct. 1, 2023 through Sept. 30, 2028, with a maximum potential value of $1.93 billion.

NASA tapped Astronaut Reid Wiseman, a native of Baltimore, to serve as commander on Artemis II, the first crewed Artemis mission that will test the Orion capsule on a lunar fly-by. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Local astronaut

Artemis II will be the second scheduled flight of the Artemis program, and the first with a crewed mission. It is scheduled to launch by the end of September 2025 on a 10-day mission to test the Orion capsule systems and perform a targeting demonstration test before traveling around the far side of the moon and returning to Earth.

NASA Astronaut Reid Wiseman, who will serve as Commander of Artemis II, is a Baltimore native and a 1993 graduate of Dulaney High School in Timonium. He received his master’s degree in Systems Engineering from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 2006.

In NASA’s videotaped crew introduction, Wiseman said the experience and lessons he and others learned about living, working and performing off the planet while serving aboard the International Space Station will be critical on the moon – and beyond.

Unlike the Apollo program, which set its sights on the moon, the Artemis program is setting its sights on eventually landing humans on Mars.

“Apollo to me changed the entire direction of our nation and in many ways of the entire world,” Wiseman said. “Artemis is building on an already solid legacy.”

Training aid

When the first Artemis crews arrive on the moon, they will need to know how to navigate and work effectively in a challenging lunar south pole environment.

In early February, the Lunar and Planetary Institute unveiled an electronic resource to train astronauts on doing just that.

Operated by the Universities Space Research Association, based in Columbia, the LPI serves as a repository for information gathered during the early years of the space program and is an intellectual leader in lunar and planetary science.

Titled “Astronaut Training for Operations in Impact-Cratered Terrains,” by USRA’s principal scientist David Kring, the 570-page volume spells out the knowledge and skills that astronauts and their supporting teams on Earth will require.

“Since any landing site … has been affected by impact cratering, it is essential that astronauts and the next generation of lunar scientists be trained in ways to unravel the wealth of information recorded by impact deposits,” said G. Jeffrey Taylor, professor emeritus at the University of Hawai’i. “David Kring’s book is essential reading for all present and future explorers of the lunar surface.”

The book draws on valuable insights from Apollo- and Constellation-era training in collaboration with NASA Johnson Space Center.

Additional experience from field-based training at Meteor Crater, the Sierra Madera impact structure and Nevada’s atomic and nuclear explosion craters illustrate the linkage between field observations, good sample selection, and significant scientific outcomes when samples are returned for ground-based analysis.

“The best and most advanced capability that we can deploy on the lunar surface is a well-trained astronaut,” Kring said.

The complete volume is available on the LPI website, at www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/books/astronaut_training_impactcraters/.

Barring any glitches, the Intuitive Machines lunar lander, named Odysseus, was scheduled to land near the lunar feature known as Malapert A on Feb. 22 and spend seven days gathering scientific data that will help pave the way for the first woman and first person of color to explore the moon under Artemis.