NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The mission to Mars is ramping up in New Orleans East as NASA engineers prepare to return man to the moon and then on to the red planet. The historic rocket plant is experiencing something it hasn’t seen in nearly 50 years.
Recycled rocket engines from the shuttle program, line up at Michoud, and for the first time in nearly 45 years Michoud has four of them on site, as they prepare for a launch next year.
Space agency officials gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of their 43 acre plant, as they prepare the engines and build the core section for a rocket program named Artemis, that will takeoff next year.
“If we’re not flying, we’re not exploring...and if we’re not exploring, we’re not leading,” said NASA deputy administrator James Morhard.
As NASA builds barrel sections for the 322 foot tall SLS rocket, they have outlined an aggressive schedule that calls for an unmanned launch to the moon in the fall of 2020. In 2022 they plan to send a manned crew to the moon and beyond...and back for one of the longest flights every. Then in 2024 NASA plans to put astronauts on the moon for the first time in 52 years, including a female.
“It will be the most powerful rocket every built and carry 3 times the payload of the shuttle,” said Jonathan Lucer with NASA.
Each one of these rocket engines is worth an estimated $90 million for a program, where cost is always a factor. And administrators are optimistic that the funding will continue in years ahead.
“This is a a national priority, and with that, the president, and vice president are clear that these are goals we need to accomplish, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Morhard.
As NASA works through a myriad of budgetary issues, recycling is a main goal, in fact one veteran astronaut said when he got here, he recognized an old friend.
Though these engines have been around for 30 years, with reworked electronics, this astronaut says he's confident in their performance.
“Anytime we get an opportunity to re-use hardware, that’s stuff we don’t have to build..it’s hardware that’s proven,” said astronaut Ricky Arnold.
Nearly 3500 people are now working nearly around the clock to meet the Artemis timetable.