“We return to the Moon to stay”

“We return to the Moon to stay”

Eduardo García Llama experiences weightlessness in a plane in parabolic flight. / Eduardo Garcia Llama

Science | Artemis Program

The Spanish engineer Eduardo García Llama will direct from Houston the guidance and control of the Orion spacecraft of the Artemisa 1 mission, which takes off on Monday

The Spanish engineer Eduardo García Llama experienced something that he will never forget more than a month ago. Along with two other colleagues from NASA and in recognition of his contributions to the new project of manned flights to the Moon, he received the Orion Program Award in Florida. "They took us to the Kennedy Space Center and we participated in an act with a great symbolic charge, the introduction in the Orion of the zero gravity indicator," the director of the ship's guidance and control team reminds this newspaper from his home in Houston. with which the human being will return to the Moon. When that indicator, a stuffed Snoopy, starts floating in the Artemis 1 capsule on Monday, mission technicians will know on the ground that Orion has escaped Earth's gravity.

Artemis 1 is the inaugural mission of the NASA program that will take the first woman to the Moon. It will take off Monday from Cape Canaveral. It is an unmanned flight, the general test of the new space launch system (SLS, for its acronym in English) and the Orion, which has capacity for four astronauts. If the 42-day mission, in which the spacecraft will orbit the Moon, is a success, there will be a second similar flight, already manned, in 2024 and a third, not before 2025, in which a woman will step on the satellite. "This time we return to the Moon to stay," says the Spanish engineer. The last time humans jumped around that gray world, he was a year old.

From the Moon to Mars

Eduardo García Llama was born in Valencia in December 1971, but the family moved to Madrid shortly after, where he grew up. "I consider Madrid my hometown," he says. He studied Physics at the Autonomous University and, when he finished his studies, he applied for a scholarship to train research staff abroad to work at the European Space Agency (ESA), the then Ministry of Education and Science and the Center for Technological Development. Industrial. He obtained it and worked for two years on a satellite at the European Space Research and Technology Center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

The scientist from Madrid arrived in Houston in December 1999 to participate in a joint project between ESA and NASA. "They wanted to develop an astronaut rescue ship for the International Space Station, the X-38, and I came to the Johnson Space Center to work on it as an ESA employee." When the X-38 project was cancelled, NASA offered him to stay in Houston. "What was going to be a stay of two or three years has ended up being forever."

Engineer Eduardo García Llama, in the Vehicle Assembly Building of the Kennedy Space Center, in front of Artemisa 1. /

Eduardo Garcia Llama

García Llama joined what is now the Artemisa program in 2017. Before that, he completed a Master of Engineering in Space Operations at the University of Colorado and spent several years studying the guidance of manned spacecraft during entry to Mars. "It's an unsolved problem." The conquest of the red planet takes decades to 20 years to come, but he believes his generation will see humans walk the Martian deserts. "It's the long-term goal."

Artemisa can be considered a first step in that adventure. A big jump, because the Moon is a thousand times further away than the International Space Station. But also a small jump, because, at its most distant point, Mars is a thousand times farther than the Moon. To bridge that abyss and rehearse the survival of humans in a hostile and isolated environment, NASA and ESA are contemplating the creation of a permanent base on the satellite around 2030, something that at the moment seems like science fiction.

Apollo and Artemis

The reality now is that NASA wants to return to the satellite in only three missions compared to the twelve of the Apollo program until Neil Armstrong and Buzz Adrian stepped on the Moon on July 21, 1969. "Three missions are few, but we have all the experience in the deep space of those flights", thanks García Llama, author of the book 'Apollo 11: the exciting story of how man stepped on the Moon for the first time' (2018). For the human being to do it for the second time and soon, the success of the mission that begins on Monday is vital.

The engineer and his team, made up of some 40 people, will be in charge of guiding and controlling the Orion from the time it separates from the last phase of the rocket at 18 minutes until re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Different teams will monitor all the ship's systems and García Llama's will be in charge of the solar panels and the engines, which will be turned on several times to maneuver and correct its trajectory. "We all want the mission to be very boring, to go well and get bored on the console."

“We are already in flight mode. That means that all the communication processes between us have to be done through the channels established in flight operations, ”says García Llama when there are six days left before takeoff. “If this first mission goes well, I would get into the next one,” says the engineer, who will have his first experience in mission control in Houston in a position of great responsibility that he will very possibly also occupy when the first woman travels to the Moon. .

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