Leading Orion to First Flight Test and Beyond

New Orion program leader sets sights on test launch and beyond

Mike Hawes recently assumed the helm of the Orion program for Lockheed Martin. He may be new to the position, but he isn’t new to the drive to send humans into space.

Before becoming the vice president and program manager for the spacecraft being developed to support NASA’s next generation of human space exploration, Hawes served as director for Human Space Flight Programs with Lockheed Martin’s Washington Operations organization.

And before that, he enjoyed a 33-year career with NASA, progressing through increasing levels of responsibility and leadership that would see him support the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station.

As he settles into his new role, Hawes reflects on his NASA experience to recall similar challenges he confronted there to help inform his leadership of the Orion program as it advances toward the highly anticipated Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) in early December.

“When I worked on ISS, we faced developmental challenges that are very similar to the ones we confront on Orion,” said Hawes. “And early in my career, I was in mission operations as a flight controller for the Space Shuttle program. What we do in mission preparation is influenced by that area.”

Orion test launch and beyond
EFT-1 will exercise Orion’s re-entry systems – including testing the heat shield, jettisoning the forward bay cover and deploying parachutes – and will gauge the effectiveness of a variety of software driving numerous functions across multiple systems.

Hawes and the Lockheed Martin Orion team have two parallel priorities as the December test launch draws closer – complete preparation for the launch, and progress on the follow-on mission, Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), which will test the Space Launch System, the launch vehicle for Orion’s future flights.

“We are focused on managing the balance of closing out the necessary work for EFT-1 this year while starting on the production flow of components for the next spacecraft,” said Hawes. “We need to balance both of those today by continuing to work urgent program activities while making decisions and moving forward in a timely manner.”

Final preparation
The Orion team Hawes leads continues to work closely with NASA as it progresses through assembly and test, ensuring any anomalies are addressed and closed out ahead of the launch.

The team is finishing major work required for EFT-1: Installing the final remaining panels that cover the spacecraft, fueling, mating to the Launch Abort System, mating the spacecraft to the Delta IV Heavy rocket and rolling out to Launch Pad 37.

As the Orion team works through its checklist, its spirits remain buoyant, despite challenges.

“We’re stressed but our spirit is good,” said Hawes. “The team is doing a great job, and everyone knows we are heading toward a major milestone. The stress stems from maintaining work on follow-on missions, but the team’s attitude is very positive. We are communicating regularly, across the team and with our NASA customer. We are in synch.”

Engaging and inspiring a new generation
When Orion lifts off from Cape Canaveral in early December aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket, it will travel 3,600 miles above the Earth – 15 times farther than the ISS – and will return to Earth at approximately 20,000 miles per hour, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Not only will the test launch serve as a key milestone for the program, it holds the power to re-engage the American public on the topic of human space flight. The significance is not lost on Hawes.

“There is not a general awareness yet in a lot of areas that we are actually building Orion or the Space Launch System, nor that those new systems are meant to begin a new stage of deep-space human exploration,” said Hawes. “EFT-1 will serve as a great awakening where people will see we are poised to inaugurate this new era of deep space exploration.”

For Hawes, Orion carries an inspirational appeal that promises to define a generation and attract future engineers, scientists and astronauts into the space industry. He has seen the excitement reflected in the hundreds of applicants when Orion posts a job and in the students who are drawn to Orion in STEM, education outreach and recruiting events where Orion is involved.

“When college students see what Orion is about, that it will go beyond the Moon and onto Mars, they want to be part of that kind of mission,” said Hawes. “Orion is probably a 30-year program, and we are building components and adding capabilities as NASA defines missions. This is a generational program that will need an infusion of new talent all through its lifecycle.”