Kennedy Space Center celebrates 60 years, learns from 6 decades of lessons

Why is it so hard to go back to the moon?

Kennedy Space Center is celebrating a big milestone as NASA prepares to make history again.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – It was 1962 when NASA started building a sprawling site in a swamp in Central Florida on Merritt Island from where Americans would soar into the sky and walk on the moon.

Bob Sieck, former Space Shuttle launch director and Gemini and Apollo launch team member, was there from the beginning.

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Sieck saw the Kennedy Space Central rise up over the Banana River. It was a different time, almost like a war-time effort Sieck said, building the entire complex, the Apollo moon rocket and capsule, training on it, and then launching it to the moon — all in 7 years.

The Artemis I moon rocket (also known as the SLS) is already 10 years in the making and NASA is re-using some space shuttle hardware to put it together inside the existing Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the cavernous building built for the Saturn V moon rocket.

“But this is a different environment we live in today than we did in the 60s,” Sieck said. “In the 60s we were a more risk acceptance society. We were doing everything for the first time so the system that provides money and budget was tolerant of having things go wrong, making mistakes, having accidents. And doing whatever it took to recover from that I get on with the business. It was kind of like a continuous war campaign to get to the moon, whatever you needed in support of resources, money or whatever was there, all you ever had to do was ask for it. And when something went wrong it was, well, we’re doing things for the first time so we’re still going to support you.”

Jeremy Graeber, assistant launch director for the Artemis I mission, said Artemis is not a new mission but a progression of missions.

“Now we’re going to take things that we’ve learned from Apollo, shuttle, International Space Station and going to take this forward to the Artemis missions,” Graeber said.

NASA has been learning from Kennedy Space Center’s 60 years of lessons. The latest lesson is learning how to fully fuel Artemis, after the first wet dress rehearsal countdown test ended early.

Engineers rolled back the SLS to the VAB and quickly diagnosed and repaired leaks and a faulty valve.

Will Graeber complete the second wet dress rehearsal attempt, scheduled to begin this Saturday?

“I think we’re in really great shape, the teams that work the issues we identified during our first wet-dry dress rehearsal have done a fantastic job,” Graeber said.

Graeber said Artemis I will launch this year after the second wet dress rehearsal is successful. Subsequent Artemis missions will land the next man and first woman on the moon, according to NASA.

Nathan Gelino, principal investigator and one of several brilliant engineers inventing and patenting what seems like science fiction at KSC’s Swampworks facility, is currently working on using a 3D printer to create a moon soil (regolith) composite material that will protect astronauts from radiation.

“We are 3D printing a protective shelter the astronauts can go under in the event of a particle event or other radiation exposure hazard,” Gelino said. “For the whole idea of a sustainable presence on the moon.”

Greg Clements, Chief of KSC’s Exploration Systems and Development Office, explained the complexities and complications of science fact: protecting the human body to live in space, long term, on the surface of another world — the challenge NASA is now facing.

“I began my career in 1985, when we planned to go to Mars 20 years later,” Clements said. “So we were 20 years away from a human Mars mission and everyone was excited about that. So now 37 years later, the latest projection is we are 18 years away from a human Mars mission. Not much closer and a lot of the reason for that is there are still some very critical technical challenges, new technologies and capabilities we have to field, propulsion, radiation, living off the land that are going to make that vision a reality.”

Mike Leinbach, space shuttle launch director from 2000 through the end of the program, said that’s why it makes sense to try to learn to live on the moon first.

“The next logical step is a base on the moon, let’s go learn how to live on the moon and NASA is leading that charge,” Leinbach said. “Going to Mars before we learn to live on the moon is wrong in my opinion, it’s infinitely more difficult. And so we need to get that experience of living on the moon first and that’s where NASA is leading that charge.”

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.