NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to lead human lunar lander development for Artemis mission


NASA announced that its Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, is leading the Human Landing System Program for the upcoming Artemis mission.

According to a press release, Marshall will partner with American companies “to develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system” that will carry U.S. astronauts to the moon.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine joined U.S. representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee at the historic space center to share the news.

Lunar Legacy Launches into the Future

Marshall helped make President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 vision of sending an American astronaut to the moon by the end of the decade a reality. The facility’s engineering team designed and built the rocket that carried the U.S. crew to the lunar body. They also developed the Lunar Rover that would eventually explore the moon’s surface.

Brooks explained why Marshall’s unparalleled achievements in the U.S. space program make it the best facility to lead NASA’s future lunar endeavor.

“Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the moon,” he said in the statement. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers. I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the moon and usher in the Artemis era. Thanks to Administrator Bridenstine for traveling here to share the great news in person.”

Bridenstine relayed the news about Marshall to his Twitter followers. He also mentioned the recently appointed Human Landing System program manager, Lisa Watson-Morgan’s, critical role in the effort.

First Stop Gateway, Next Stops the Moon and Mars

The completed human moon landing system will launch first to the lunar Gateway. NASA reportedly plans to build the small spaceship in space. The orbiting craft will include living quarters as well as a science and research lab. As the facility circles the moon, integrated docking ports will enable visitors to enter and exit.

Overall, astronauts on journeys to the moon and later, on missions to Mars, can use the Gateway as a home base. They can also train there to live far away from Earth.

The ship will be much smaller than the International Space Station (ISS). As such, Gateway crew members won’t stay on board for extended periods of time like the ISS teams. Instead, they’ll live and work aboard the orbiting facility for up to three months. Robots will also conduct experiments inside and outside of the ship.

Meanwhile, reusable human lunar landers will shuttle astronauts between the Gateway and the moon’s surface. In this sense, the Gateway will function as a space transport hub.

SLS Test and Artemis Mission Management

Bridenstine made the program announcement while standing in front of NASA’s 149-foot-tall Space Launch System (SLS) liquid hydrogen test article. The system is currently undergoing structural safety tests at Marshall. NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans is developing the SLS core stage.

Aderholt addressed Marshall’s role in the rocket’s development.

“Marshall Space Flight Center and North Alabama have played a key role in every American human mission to space since the days of Mercury 7. I am proud that Marshall has been selected to be the lead for the landers program,” said Aderholt. “I am also very proud that Marshall has designed and built the rocket system, the Space Launch System, which will make missions to the moon and Mars possible. We look forward to working with our industry partners and our NASA partners from around the country.”

NASA’s world-renowned Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas manages all of the agency’s human spaceflight programs including the Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew, and the ISS. Now, the center will oversee operations that help prepare the astronauts and future lunar landers to work together.

Furthermore, JSC will manage all of the upcoming Artemis missions, starting with Artemis 1. NASA is currently pushing to launch astronauts to the moon by 2024. The agency’s other main lunar goal aims “to establish a sustained human presence on and around the moon by 2028.”