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Auburn grads’, researchers’ work key to moon launch

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

On Monday, when NASA plans to launch Artemis I, its next generation of moon exploration, a bit of Auburn will be going to space.

“‘War Eagle!’ is written somewhere inside that vehicle,” Joseph Pelfrey, deputy director, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center,  said in a written statement about the spacecraft Orion. “I’m not going to say where, or who put it there, but I can assure you, ‘War Eagle’ is there.”

Palfrey is a 2000 Auburn aerospace alumnus whose team designed and developed Artemis’ Space Launch System. He’s one of several Auburn grads and researchers who have worked on the ambitious space mission, according to a press release from the university.

Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to build a long-term human presence at the moon, according to NASA. The primary goals for Artemis I are to demonstrate Orion’s systems in a spaceflight environment and ensure a safe re-entry, descent, splashdown and recovery prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II.

According to NASA’s website, the Artemis program relies on the expertise and capabilities of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.”

Other Artemis researchers from Auburn include: 

  • Masatoshi Hirabayashi, assistant professor in aerospace engineering, assigned to NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover mission, which will explore the lunar soil and search for water, during an Artemis-related mission in 2023.
  • Masoud Mahjouri-Samani, assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, and Nima Shamsaei, professor of mechanical engineering, are part of a NASA-funded team challenged to create electronic devices in space via dry printing technology.
  • Michael Hamilton, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is principal investigator on a project designed to test the viability of specific electric devices in extreme lunar environments.
  • David Scarborough, associate professor in aerospace engineering, Vrishank Raghav and Masatoshi Hirabayashi, assistant professors in aerospace engineering, and Brian Thurow, professor and aerospace engineering department chair, are working on a NASA-funded project to study plume-surface interactions and lunar dust formation during descent and touchdown on the moon in relation to rocket exhaust, for future lunar missions.

Pelfrey said about 200 Auburn engineers are employed as civilians at Marshall Space Flight Center.

 “You notice them by the way they communicate,” he said. “They’re deep technically, and they understand the big picture, too. When you think about a large rocket, it’s actually a system of systems within itself. Auburn engineers can lift their heads out of their technical area and recognize how some parts of a system will interact with other parts of a system. That’s critically important when developing complex space missions.”

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