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Lockheed Martin IQ: Lisa Callahan

The Success of AA-2 and what it means for Orion

AA-2 Launch Photo: NASA

Lisa Callahan, VP and General Manager, Commercial Civil Space, Lockheed Martin took time to chat with Tracy Weise, Lockheed Martin Communications, about the historic AA-2 launch and what it means for Orion and the future of human space flight.

I can’t deny I was nervous about the launch. It’s true that in the days leading up to AA-2, I was confident and knew we were ready. But there are hundreds, really thousands, of things that must execute flawlessly for success. We built NASA Orion’s Launch Abort System to save the lives of astronauts in an emergency. There is zero margin of error for such a critical component.

Most people don’t understand the level of superstition and rituals surrounding launches. For a team of highly trained engineers, it is a bit ironic. While I don’t have any personal rituals, I always commit to taking part in the ones of the team. On one team, we always wore Hawaiian shirts on launch days. And if there was a failure, the shirt you had on could never be worn again. Ever.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), peanuts are everywhere, and everyone eats them during major events such as Insight landing on Mars. I don’t like peanuts, but I’m too superstitious NOT to participate, so I eat the peanuts when at JPL. But for AA-2 I skipped the peanuts and the Hawaiian shirt.

My adrenaline picked up as the countdown began. In the test control center, the tension was palpable. The liftoff was FAST – faster than with most launches because of the nature of this unique test. In fact, the entire AA-2 took less than three minutes. We quickly let out a collective sigh of relief when it was done. Knowing our system worked, the atmosphere in the control center switched from electrified adrenaline to sheer joy.

The moment we knew we’d achieved mission success, I flashed back to everything that led us to this point. Originally AA-2 was slated between Artemis 1, an un-crewed mission, and Artemis 2, the first Orion flight with a crew. Moving it up by more than a year meant significant schedule changes. We also had to simulate – exactly – not just an Orion launch, but a launch mimicking one with astronauts and equipment on board for a long mission.

In 2014, I watched the first Orion test, EFT-1, streaming live. At that time, I knew this was something special – this was a game changer for our country. Watching AA-2, not on television but from the control center, it suddenly felt very real. We know we can go to the Moon. The success of AA-2 means we are definitely on the right path to human exploration in deep space, but it also reminds us that we will never get there if we can’t survive the first few miles. Our country lost Apollo 1 astronauts on the launch pad in 1967, and the Challenger astronauts only made it to 65,000 feet in 1986. Because of these tragedies, we know the Launch Abort System is as important as any other back-up and life sustaining system on Orion.

It’s been 50 years since humans were on the Moon. AA-2 was a critical step in getting us back to deep space exploration. For decades to come, Orion will be an inspiration to all humanity. New space discoveries will benefit us on Earth. The successes of Orion will encourage more people to study science, technology, engineering and math, which will help us propel our world with medical and scientific advances. It is a big, audacious goal to get to the Moon in the next five years, but big goals make for even bigger triumphs.