St. Louis to be represented on international stage as NASA prepares for Artemis launch

As NASA prepares for a second launch attempt of its Artemis generation rocket, scientists, engineers and manufacturers from St. Louis will be well represented.
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 5:26 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - As NASA prepares for a second launch attempt of its Artemis generation rocket, scientists, engineers and manufacturers from St. Louis will be well represented.

Sean Fuller, Gateway Program Manager for International Partners, has more than two decades of experience with NASA. He’s also a 1992 Eureka High School graduate.

“There’s a great connection of St. Louis in the Gateway Program,” he said. “My boss, Dan Hartman, the manager for the program, he’s from Edwardsville, so there’s a very strong St. Louis connection.”

Currently, Fuller works with NASA’s international partners to aid in their technical integration for Gateway, the first space station in lunar orbit to support NASA’s deep space exploration plans.

After a failed launch attempt on Monday, Fuller said meetings have been ongoing all week to address a cooling problem in one of the rocket’s four engines. Changes have been made, he said, and another launch attempt will take place Saturday around 1:17 CST.

“It’s going to fly out actually beyond the moon, for about a 40-day test mission,” Fuller said. “It will test out the systems and test out the heat shield. It will be reentering the earth at about 25,000 miles an hour as it gets into the atmosphere. That’s about 8,000 miles an hour faster than an aircraft that comes back from the International Space Station.”

Saturday’s test flight will be unmanned and serve as the first of several test flights. Fuller said if all goes as planned, the second test flight will likely have a crew onboard that will orbit around the moon, but astronauts will not land on the moon’s surface.

“The longest Apollo landing on the surface was about three days,” he said. “As we look toward the next step, we know what’s there, so we’re looking to go in a more permanent presence.”

Fuller said scientists will focus on the south pole of the moon, where there are permanently shadowed areas with water ice.

“That’s a key interest for scientists,” he said. “Gateway gives us the capability to land anywhere on the lunar surface.”

The rocket is several years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, despite engineers using a majority of previously used parts in an attempt to build the rocket faster.

The development of a rocket such as Artemis requires millions of parts and systems, of which hundreds of manufacturers nationwide help create, including Planet Tool and Engineering in O’Fallon, Missouri.

“We’re making components or parts that are used in building the rocket,” said president Mike Grassmuck.

Boeing is the primary contractor for NASA and Grassmuck’s company, as a subcontractor, creates tools used in the assembly process of the rocket.

“We’re just excited to be part of it,” Grassmuck said. “We’re grateful to be able to do our little part to help support the whole program.”

Quality control is key, Grassmuck said, when working in the aeronautics industry.

“We want it to be right every time,” he said. “We go to great lengths to ensure that happens.”