New Orleans NASA Facility Critical to the New Moon Missions

The space program is embarking on a new mission to return people to the moon.  The first Artemis spacecraft was scheduled to be launched earlier this month but NASA had to scrub the launch.  ABC 31 News’ Joel Massey spoke with the director of the facility that built the spacecraft right here in Louisiana.

Lonnie Dutreix, director of the NASA Michoud Assembly Factory said, “It’s the beginning of a new endeavor, a new mission.  The generation before us went to the moon for the first time now we’re going back to the moon, a sustainable presence on the moon and on to Mars.  Being at the beginning of this new generational mission is pretty cool.”

Man is returning to the moon and the man heading up the New Orleans facility building the spacecrafts is Lonnie Dutreix, director of the NASA Michoud Assembly Factory.  The facility has been a critical part of every human spaceflight in the past century.

“If you look at the history of the facility as far as human spaceflight this facility has produced hardware that’s gone into space for every human spaceflight.  Started off in the 60s with the Apollo program we built the first stages of the Saturn rocket here.  During the shuttle program we built all the external fuel tanks right here at Michoud and now with the Artemis program we’re building the core stage and the crew capsule the Orion crew capsule’s built here also and we’re tooling up to build a more powerful upper stage.”

This first flight is unmanned but there are mannequin astronauts in the seats to measure the effects of the trip.  Dutreix talks about the reasons for a space program and returning to the moon.

“We’ve always been explorers.  Space is obviously the most unexplored place we can go.  So it furthers technology.  It furthers our understanding of the universe.  There’s always a spin off technologies that we look at that are part of building hardware and getting people out to live in space.  But it is what we are.”

The Artemis program is different than the Apollo missions in that they are planning a sustainable presence on the moon and this program is in preparation for future Mars missions.

“We’re going to have boots on the ground on the moon, habitats to live on the moon and eventually go to Mars.  So that will be deeper than any human’s ever been out in space when we go to Mars.”

About 2000 people work at the facility to build the spacecrafts.  It’s taken several years to get the first core stage built and the Orion crew capsule.  Right now, they are working on pieces of core stages three, four and five, and they’ve seen a 33 percent increase in efficiency.

“So, as we build more of them as you would expect we’re getting better more cost efficient and more schedule efficient.”

The New Orleans facility has a significant economic impact for the area.

“We’re very excited to have these jobs in our own backyard to support Louisiana and graduates from universities here that want to work in this industry you know they have this right in their backyard.  So it really is a win, win for the agency taxpayers and the state of Louisiana.”

NASA had to scrub the first launch earlier this month because of a hydrogen leak. The next launch window begins on the 27 and if all goes well will be the first time NASA has returned to the moon in a half a century.

The Artemis missions and subsequent Mars missions will keep the Michoud facility in New Orleans busy for at least the next 25 years.