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Will People Live on the Moon? (featuring Melissa McGuire)

The Artemis missions will send humans back to the moon, including the first woman and first person of color. Our guest this week is Melissa McGuire, the mission design manager for NASA's Gateway Power and Propulsion Element. Listen in to learn how this new method will make space travel more efficient. New episodes, now releasing every other Friday!

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Looking Up is transcribed using a combination of AI speech recognition and human editors. It may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

00:00:00 Dean Regas

Imagine you open your eyes to this weird sensation.

00:00:06 Dean Regas

You're floating through space, you're in microgravity.

00:00:10 Dean Regas

Scientists are surrounding you, conducting experiments and fixing up the space station.

00:00:15 Dean Regas

Yes, you're on the International Space Station, but something's not quite right.

00:00:24 Dean Regas

Lookout the window and instead of seeing the earth below, you're seeing the moon.

00:00:29 Dean Regas

You are in orbit around the moon and this could be your future because NASA is developing Gateway, it's Lunar Orbital station to act as kind of like a checkpoint to the lunar surface, and the even bigger Artemis program.

00:00:47 Dean Regas

Today we're joined by a scientist working to make this dream possible from the studios of Cincinnati Public Radio.

00:00:54 Dean Regas

I'm your host, Dean Regas, and this is looking up.

00:01:04 Dean Regas

The show that takes you deep into the cosmos or just to the telescope in your backyard to learn more about what makes this vast universe of ours so amazing.

00:01:17 Dean Regas

So NASA's Artemis missions are going to be sending people back to the moon, and the plans are to land the first woman and first person.

00:01:25 Dean Regas

Of color on.

00:01:26 Dean Regas

Moon, as well as establish the first long term human presence on the moon.

00:01:31 Dean Regas

Now I don't.

00:01:31 Dean Regas

Think it's going to be like we're going to see moon bases and people living there year round, but there's gonna be some amazing stuff including this gateway mission.

00:01:39 Dean Regas

That's gonna be kind of like this way station to go down to the moon.

00:01:43 Dean Regas

Back up to the moon and then a practice hopefully to send people to.

00:01:49 Dean Regas

So it's similar to International Space Station, but instead of circling the Earth, it will be circling around the moon.

00:01:55 Dean Regas

And the idea is to have it be like, you know, people living there, like all the time and the hardest.

00:02:01 Dean Regas

Part about going.

00:02:02 Dean Regas

Into space is really just getting off of the earth. The Earth's gravity is so intense.

00:02:08 Dean Regas

That just takes a tremendous amount of energy to break free of the gravity of the earth, and that's why you need these super gigantic big rockets.

00:02:15 Dean Regas

Seconds and counting T -.

00:02:17 Dean Regas

15 seconds guidance is internal.

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To send it up in parts and.

00:02:21 Dean Regas

Pieces and assemble it in space.

00:02:25 Dean Regas

I mean, think about that.

00:02:26 Dean Regas

Just putting things together up in space when you're traveling so fast to 10s of thousands of miles an hour and getting the parts together in the right places with the propellant to keep it going.

00:02:39 Dean Regas

Man, this is some serious rocket science stuff.

00:02:41 Dean Regas

These are like.

00:02:42 Dean Regas

Super nerds that are working on this and I'm like impressed like whenever some engineers split this kind of thing together, this is not easy.

00:02:51 Dean Regas

This is this is incredibly difficult and the idea of sending people up there too complicates things even more because everything up in space.

00:03:00 Dean Regas

Frankly wants to kill you.

00:03:02 Dean Regas

You have to work for everything.

00:03:03 Dean Regas

Being out in space, you have to bring all your food, all your water.

00:03:06 Dean Regas

You can't get hit by micrometeorites.

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You can't have system failures.

00:03:10 Dean Regas

You have to make sure the toilets are working.

00:03:12 Dean Regas

You know that kind of stuff.

00:03:13 Dean Regas

And I'm, I'm.

00:03:15 Dean Regas

I'm also dreaming like, you know, like when we do send people into space.

00:03:18 Dean Regas

I kind of like to hitch a ride with them myself.

00:03:21 Dean Regas

I like to.

00:03:22 Dean Regas

You know, mentally, emotionally, go with them.

00:03:27 Dean Regas

I'm never going to be asked to go into space and I don't know about you all, but I I think it would be pretty cool.

00:03:33 Dean Regas

But you gotta feel for the astronauts when you see them getting ready for this.

00:03:37 Dean Regas

When you see them training for this.

00:03:39 Dean Regas

So I can't wait to see what happens and I'm really excited to speak with our guest here today.

00:03:44 Dean Regas

Who is Melissa McGuire at the mission design?

00:03:47 Dean Regas

Manager for NASA's Gateway power and propulsion element. Oh, man. She's going to give us the lowdown on what's coming up with this project.

00:03:57 Dean Regas

Well, Melissa, thanks so much for joining me today.

00:03:59 Melissa McGuire

Well, thank you very much, Dean.

00:04:00 Melissa McGuire

It's my pleasure.

00:04:01 Dean Regas

This is a really exciting time for humans in space, as we're getting ready to send people back around to the moon with the Artemis missions and the Gateway project seems really fascinating.

00:04:13 Dean Regas

So what's your role in the development of the Gateway and Artemis?

00:04:18 Melissa McGuire

Alright, so to explain my role, I think I need to.

00:04:20 Melissa McGuire

Explain a little bit about the gateway and.

00:04:22 Melissa McGuire

What it is?

00:04:23 Melissa McGuire

The gateway is it's a space platform that we're going to be assembling in an orbit near the moon, called a near rectilinear Halo orbit, and that's a loosely semi stable orbit.

00:04:34 Melissa McGuire

It's an about the distance of the moon, so it's an orbit sort of about the Earth.

00:04:38 Melissa McGuire

But because it's near the moon, it's tugged by the moon, so it lives in this gravitational pull between the earth and the moon, and it's semi stable.

00:04:45 Melissa McGuire

So it requires A propulsion system to help keep whatever spacecraft is there there so that we don't drift either toward the moon or.

00:04:51 Melissa McGuire

Back toward the earth.

00:04:52 Melissa McGuire

So my role is.

00:04:54 Melissa McGuire

The mission design manager of something called the Power and propulsion element, and it's going to do what its name implies, it's going to provide power and propulsion for the gateway and the PPE.

00:05:05 Melissa McGuire

That's the power and propulsion element is going to take itself and a habitat.

00:05:08 Melissa McGuire

Those are the first two pieces of the gateway up to this destination orbit about the moon.

00:05:13 Melissa McGuire

And my role is that my team and I are responsible for designing the trajectory that it's going.

00:05:18 Melissa McGuire

To fly to get.

00:05:19 Melissa McGuire

Up there so.

00:05:20 Dean Regas

This will be essentially like a moon of the moon, which is not easy to do correct.

00:05:26 Melissa McGuire

That's correct, yes.

00:05:27 Melissa McGuire

But we're going to try to make use of that to keep down a propellant cost in order to put this platform near the moon to help and support the long duration lunar.

00:05:35 Melissa McGuire

Missions we have planned.

00:05:37 Dean Regas

And so how many individual modules will make up the, you know, the the final product, the completed gateway?

00:05:43 Melissa McGuire

So this is a good question.

00:05:44 Melissa McGuire

We're the 1st.

00:05:45 Melissa McGuire

Two, so the PPE and the Halo which is.

00:05:47 Melissa McGuire

The the habitat.

00:05:49 Melissa McGuire

They'll be somewhere less than 10 total modules.

00:05:53 Melissa McGuire

But that doesn't include the visiting vehicles.

00:05:56 Melissa McGuire

So, like our Orion that we just saw successfully fly as part of Artemis 1.

00:06:00 Melissa McGuire

We'll be coming up to the gateway and bringing astronauts up and taking them back home, and then because it's going to be supporting the the land admissions, our HLS spacecraft will be coming up and docking with the gateway transferring.

00:06:13 Melissa McGuire

Are not transferring assets being used as a stage?

00:06:16 Melissa McGuire

In place, and then we'll also just like the space station have logistics modules that will come up and bring supplies or take away things.

00:06:24 Melissa McGuire

So they'll be very active coming and going at the gateway.

00:06:28 Melissa McGuire

As well as the modules that are built up.

00:06:29 Dean Regas

So do you see this as kind of a a 4 runner to maybe a Mars mission?

00:06:35 Dean Regas

Is this a little practice or is this even more than that?

00:06:39 Melissa McGuire

So that's exactly the plan.

00:06:40 Melissa McGuire

So everything that we're doing right now is crafted in our our Moon to Mars goals as an agency.

00:06:46 Melissa McGuire

And so the gateway allows us to test out both technology and hardware as well as operations and usage.

00:06:53 Melissa McGuire

So how do we provide communications for a a long duration surface mission?

00:06:58 Melissa McGuire

What sort of things will our astronauts who are away from the Earth need, but also the hardware?

00:07:03 Melissa McGuire

So my my PPE, the power and propulsion element, has these really huge.

00:07:07 Melissa McGuire

Arrays and these new advanced electric propulsion thrusters, both of which we're testing out because they would be potential usage on the transportation systems that we build to take crew to and fro.

00:07:19 Melissa McGuire

From Mars, it's it is absolutely a.

00:07:21 Melissa McGuire

Dry run and.

00:07:22 Melissa McGuire

A test for all the things we're going to need to send people to Mars.

00:07:25 Dean Regas

So with with all your work with this and and seeing how all the systems are working and testing all that, would you go up yourself?

00:07:33 Dean Regas

Like, do you feel like you would like if they said, you know, we'll offer you a free trip up there to the moon, Mars or beyond?

00:07:40 Dean Regas

Would you say yes to all or yes to some, yes to any.

00:07:44 Dean Regas

Would you actually do it?

00:07:45 Melissa McGuire

I'm not necessarily a thrill seeker.

00:07:48 Melissa McGuire

Here by design, but I am a problem solver, so my entire career I've been working on the transportation side, the trajectory side of the problem for sending people beyond Earth, and I'm fully happy being the person on the ground who figured out how to do it.

00:08:04 Melissa McGuire

So make it possible for the folks who have that adventure aside and they're.

00:08:08 Melissa McGuire

They're willing to go and make.

00:08:09 Melissa McGuire

So no, I would stay here.

00:08:10 Melissa McGuire

But I would do everything in my power to to make those trips possible and be happy sitting here watching it on television with everybody else.

00:08:18 Dean Regas

Oh, I love it.

00:08:19 Dean Regas

Spoken like a true engineer.

00:08:20 Dean Regas

Ohh ohhh my gosh.

00:08:22 Dean Regas

Goes to my heart.

00:08:23 Dean Regas

I have a lot of engineers in my family so it's awesome to to see what's gonna be coming and what.

00:08:29 Dean Regas

What's the most exciting part about the missions that you're seeing that are that are gonna be unfolding?

00:08:34 Dean Regas

Do you think the public is going to really love?

00:08:36 Melissa McGuire

So I think similar to Artemis that just happened sort of in real time that everybody could just watch all of the the different phases of the mission as Orion made its successful flight around the Moon and back.

00:08:48 Melissa McGuire

And I think we have come so far in all of the technologies for communication and data sharing and video technologies and all of the things that we didn't necessarily have during the Apollo time.

00:08:59 Melissa McGuire

I think all of these missions are much more personal.

00:09:04 Melissa McGuire

They can be a part of everyone's lives.

00:09:06 Melissa McGuire

You can just live stream things on your phone and watch how it's happening.

00:09:09 Melissa McGuire

I I almost feel like we're in the 60s and early 70s.

00:09:13 Melissa McGuire

You sat in your living room television and you were a part of the mission and people felt like they're a part of what was going on.

00:09:20 Melissa McGuire

I think it's even more so now because we have all these ways to connect, and NASA is.

00:09:25 Melissa McGuire

Using all of those and everything that we're designing, so you know we're putting cameras everywhere and we're making sure we're data sharing and we've involved international partners across the world.

00:09:34 Melissa McGuire

We're not just doing this on our.

00:09:35 Melissa McGuire

Own so it.

00:09:36 Melissa McGuire

Really is a.

00:09:36 Melissa McGuire

A global effort.

00:09:38 Melissa McGuire

Where all of the successes are the successes.

00:09:41 Melissa McGuire

Of of everyone.

00:09:43 Melissa McGuire

All of humanity.

00:09:44 Melissa McGuire

It's something that I.

00:09:45 Melissa McGuire

Always hoped we would be able to get my entire career and I'm really, really excited.

00:09:49 Melissa McGuire

I still haven't come down from Artemis one.

00:09:52 Melissa McGuire

I just think that was fantastic.

00:09:53 Dean Regas

Ohh yeah, I mean human space travel is exciting, thrilling, dangerous.

00:10:00 Dean Regas

All the above.

00:10:00 Dean Regas

And and we're entering into this new phase, I think I'm with you.


All of it.

00:10:05 Dean Regas

I think I'll watch.

00:10:06 Dean Regas

I think that sounds better and hope all everything goes smoothly because I mean, this is stuff that you all been working on for a long time and tested what what is the the timetable if everything goes well when is launch and start and.

00:10:20 Dean Regas

And all this coming up.

00:10:22 Melissa McGuire

So we're looking toward the the mid.

00:10:24 Melissa McGuire

To latter half.

00:10:25 Melissa McGuire

Of this decade, for all the launches.

00:10:27 Melissa McGuire

So we're still, we're, we've actually started building hardware.

00:10:29 Melissa McGuire

So we do have some pieces built and we're still a couple years out or so before our launches.

00:10:36 Dean Regas

And I mean just, you know, between us, you, you walk around telling everybody you're a rocket scientist.

00:10:41 Dean Regas


00:10:42 Melissa McGuire

No, I don't.

00:10:44 Melissa McGuire

I don't do that.

00:10:45 Melissa McGuire

If people ask me, I will tell them what I work on.

00:10:47 Melissa McGuire

I'm very, very proud of it.

00:10:49 Melissa McGuire

And I think more than being proud of being a rocket scientist, I'm just honored and grateful that I get to work.

00:10:55 Melissa McGuire

With all of the really smart people, I get to work with, there are some really, really smart people who are very dedicated and very passionate and it's a joy to work with all of them.

00:11:03 Dean Regas

Ohh yeah, it must be like working at some amazing college campus with all these brilliant minds and astronauts walking around and engineers walking around and thanks so much for talking to us today.

00:11:12 Dean Regas

Melissa, this has been a lot of fun learning a lot more about Gateway and Artemis, and best of luck with it.

00:11:17 Dean Regas

We'll be watching and tuning in and seeing what adventures await.

00:11:21 Melissa McGuire

Well, thank you very much.

00:11:22 Melissa McGuire

This has been my pleasure.

00:11:23 Melissa McGuire

I love talking about all of the cool things that NASA is doing, so I'm.

00:11:27 Melissa McGuire

Looking forward to it too.

00:11:28 Dean Regas

So I've been speaking with Melissa McGuire, the mission design manager for NASA's Gateway Power and Propulsion ELO.

00:11:34 Dean Regas

Melissa, thanks again.

00:11:36 Melissa McGuire

Thank you so much.

00:11:37 Dean Regas

Looking up with Dean Regas is a production of synth sanati, public radio.

00:11:41 Dean Regas

Marshall Verbsky as our show producer and professional moon cheese chef.

00:11:47 Dean Regas

Ella Rowen is our audio engineer and microgravity liaison.

00:11:51 Dean Regas

So, yeah, she keeps you up in space.

00:11:53 Dean Regas

And our theme song is possible light by Ziv Moran.

00:11:57 Dean Regas

I'm Dean Regas and keep looking up.