SMTAI 2019: To the Moon and Beyond
W. Michael Hawes, D.Sc., gave a great keynote at SMTAI 2019 titled, “To the Moon! Orion's Next Giant Leap Into Deep Space.” Dr. Mike Hawes is currently the VP for human space exploration and the Orion Program manager for Lockheed Martin. In his presentation, he provided a behind-the-scenes look at Orion's development and the technology innovations that empower this next-generation spacecraft to take astronauts to explore farther than humankind has ever ventured.
Dr. Hawes joined Lockheed Martin in July 2011 after concluding a 33-year career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and was selected to lead Lockheed Martin’s Orion Program Office in 2014. Before joining the Orion Program, he served as the director for human space flight programs with Lockheed Martin’s Washington Operations organization. In this role, Dr. Hawes was responsible for representing the Human Space Flight/ Space Systems Company organization with the Obama Administration and Congress.
Dr. Hawes has a diverse background in program management, aerospace engineering, mission operations, and leadership experience that is critical to leading one of the company’s most notable programs. In this interview, he talks about his time spent at NASA and Lockheed Martin, the differences and changes in spaceflight technology he has seen over the years, and the emergence of the private space sector.
Barry Matties: It’s great to meet you. After just hearing your keynote presentation, let’s start by addressing the expectations of the mission to the moon.
Dr. Mike Hawes: We’ve learned that the moon is very different than what we knew in the Apollo era. We know that there’s frozen ice, which appears to be pretty prevalent all over the surface. We have learned more about the far side because we have had an orbiting robotic spacecraft studying it for the past several years. We’ve seen that there’s much more formation activity from the solar system, but we haven’t had a chance to use crews to go in and see that. One of the things that has been cited a couple of times is the most interesting Apollo samples came from Apollo 17, and that was the one mission that had a geologist, Harrison Schmitt, on the crew. Having a trained scientist-astronaut in the environment, determining what to collect and study, made a huge difference.
Matties: We hear about commercial space travel and the moon as a destination. What do you think of that and the timing surrounding that idea?
Hawes: What’s interesting to me is that you see a lot of people in the industry who want to do space travel on a more commercial basis and try developing it in different business cases. This brings diversity to the whole enterprise, which is healthy. How those schedules will play out and be funded, though, is yet to be determined. People mostly focus on Elon Musk and SpaceX or Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin in terms of committing those kinds of resources, but there’s not a business market to it. What it will take to develop a business market is a requirement or driving need for a bunch of resupply, for instance.
One of the things that I like about the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) is that it’s an aggregation point. A lot of people can get there and bring either components or supplies, and we bring the crew. I think that we’re opening up. We tend to talk about it in terms of an architecture that allows a lot of people to play at numerous levels on “a commercial basis” or by “buying a service.” We’re all coming from companies in this business, but there are more opportunities for various companies to play in different ways.
Matties: When NASA first ended the space shuttle mission, it was the end of an era and very sad to me personally. But now, with the private sector step in, the pace of progress has accelerated.
Hawes: And that’s the case when you have a flying space station; you need a crew and supplies. You no longer have that primary carrier in the shuttle, so you established a market, even if it’s not huge, which is part of the necessary condition. Can we establish that kind of market around the moon and even onto Mars? If it’s flying one big node or something, that’s not going to be a big market, but if it’s bringing supplies as we’ve demonstrated on the International Space Station, then you start to fit more of that condition.
Matties: The other thing that you mentioned was some Star Trek references. What’s the long-term vision? Do you see that as the practicality of space travel?
Hawes: Well, you had me going until you said practicality. I believe that we will spend time significantly exploring space and that we will inhabit other planets? But I don’t know if we will find life.
Matties: I would expect a firm belief of yours is that life does exist out there.
Hawes: I think it exists in some form. When you look at the primary planet finder for NASA, which has been the Kepler spacecraft, it looks at a small portion of the sky. But even in that data, we have found hundreds of likely planets. The idea that the only life form is this one, little planet on a run-of-the-mill star seems unlikely to me. It’s all challenging for NASA now. They’re used to owning and controlling all aspects of the mission. Now, they have to shift that thought and determine what is it that they want from all of the processes.
We design and build it, but they own it. And for the spacecraft that’s going to fly your astronauts to the moon, that’s probably where you want to be. But for taking cargo supplies, as they’ve learned on the Space Station, that’s not as important these days. And the whole goal of doing the cargo flights to the Space Station was to try to demonstrate that we could buy a service. I was part of NASA at the time and helped to get that going. The question was, “Can we move more toward buying a service instead of owning a spacecraft or launch vehicle, doing mission control, and owning all of those aspects of the mission?” That was the goal, and it has worked to that level. I think we can continue to see future collaborations and continue to push things.
Matties: You keyed in early on how the technology that we used for the first moon launch versus what we’re doing today is generationally different. What are the key changes in the program from a technology base that’s being implemented?
Hawes: Certainly, there are new materials that we use that weren’t available back in that time, and our manufacturing process and capabilities are much improved. I joke with people who are early in their career that I started my college career with the slide rule, and it is an amazing process to see how everything is designed and manufactured digitally. Today, things are inspected automatically with a different set of tools. With 3D printing, you can design devices that would be impossible to manufacture in traditional ways. For example, we’re looking at making 3D-printed propellant tanks.
Matties: I would think that 3D printers are going to be commonplace on space stations as a tool for the astronauts to use. 3D printers on space stations will be like the Star Trek replicators, so to speak.
Hawes: Ultimately, they will be. That has been done some on the Space Station so far. Many people want to look at if we can manufacture things out of lunar regolith or make structures out of the soil based on the metal content.
Matties: That’s exactly the question I was going to ask because you may have the printers, but you’re going to need some base material.
Hawes: That’s right. And with what’s available, the question is, “How much purification, if you will, would have to be done with the lunar or Mars material to be able to make it useful?” It’s a fascinating set of options because the ultimate goal is to “live off the land.” You can’t afford a logistics trail.
Matties: One of the core differences in the technology from the early space moonwalk to today is the analysis tools that we’re able to carry with us. The depth of knowledge that we’re going to gain from that has to be monumentally different.
Hawes: And that grows exponentially, all the time, in terms of your computing capability and the types of things that you’re doing, which is an amazing process.
Matties: From your expansive career, what is one of the best memories you have from your work here?
Hawes: I’ve had a great run, including being able to learn from a lot of the folks that were involved with Apollo. When I started early at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) , most of the people were still there, and so even though we were working on the space shuttle, you still had all of that history and context from the people who did it. I also enjoyed all my work on the International Space Station, which took me from a mostly domestic program to a broad, international program. Then, in the early ‘90s, we invited the Russians into that partnership. Being a child of the Cold War, so to speak, to rocking through Red Square and dealing with Russian teams on a daily basis was amazing. And now, we have an opportunity to take us back to the moon. I’ve had some good highlights.
Matties: You’re in a unique position with a lot of engineering experience. What advice would you give to a young engineer looking to move into our industry or other industries?
Hawes: There are a number of challenges that students coming right out of college now face. Part of it is having an ability to try enough things and have discernment throughout the process. Do you want to be a deep, disciplined, subject-matter expert type of engineer, or do you want to be a broad systems type engineer? You’re not likely to know that until you get into your field of practice and see what the options are. Many companies provide some capability to do that, but that’s something that we struggle with all the time. I talked to a group of younger employees yesterday afternoon about how can we offer some visibility into different types of work and opportunities to help them with that discernment.
I was lucky. I fell into a space shuttle operations team, so from the get-go, it was much broader, which suited me well. Coming out of school, I would not have known to seek that kind of position. So, how do we help early-career folks discern what is best for them? What are their interests and talents? Most science and engineering university programs are very intensive, and there’s so much material that you have to learn. It’s hard to add all these extra pieces to think about too. Some young people might be interested in the entrepreneurial side of the industry, so they also need to figure out how to run a business.
Matties: Another thought that strikes me is in the early days of the moon launch, when Kennedy first came out, America and the world were focused on the vision he built. Today, when we have spaceships take off and return to earth, it seems to me that aside from a few, it’s a “non-event” for most people, yet it’s such a spectacular achievement still.
Hawes: One of the big differences we see is that these events can still be positive but for a much shorter period of time. For instance, some of our test missions, like the test flight with the abort system we did in July, captured the public’s interest for a couple of days.
Matties: After the Space Shuttle, the next big event is when we get the man back on the moon or a footprint on Mars.
Hawes: I’m hopeful that it will be a little better than that, and we’ve seen some data to support that too. When we did our test flight in 2014, we launched Orion out 3,600 miles; the goal was to test the heat-shield material, go out that distance, and loop back so that we could get about 84% of the lunar return speed. We did a whole bunch of other things, but this was all without crew. We still had a large social media presence, as well as a large traditional media presence, and it was sustained for a number of days throughout that process.
One thing that was interesting was how we had cameras looking out of the window, and you could tell we were far away from the earth. This wasn’t the Space Station; we were 10 times further than the Space Station was from the earth, and people recognized that it was different and more like Apollo and going back to the moon. I was impressed that people seem to understand that difference, but I still wonder how we sustain people’s interest in the long term when all of our attention spans are shorter.
Matties: Seeing the rockets land back on a moving platform in the middle of the ocean was quite remarkable; that was an achievement that captured a lot of attention. Are there any thoughts that you’d like to share with our readership that we haven’t talked about?
Hawes: Groups like this serve an important role in our fundamental technologies and how we manufacture and build things. In my part of the business, I lay out the big mission objectives and requirements; at that point, I’m allowed to be impossible and outrageous. But it’s organizations like SMTA and others throughout our supply chain that continue to push the boundaries. We have an amazing supply chain all across the U.S. with companies that do incredible manufacturing work in terms of being higher-quality, more reliable, and cheaper. If we’re going to get back to the moon or get onto Mars, we have to continue to make these advances.
Matties: What’s your takeaway from your tour of the SMTAI show floor?
Hawes: It’s fascinating to see all the pieces put together. In our Lockheed Martin manufacturing facilities, I’ve seen bits and pieces of these processes, but seeing them all together as well as the technological evolution that companies are using to solve different types of problems is interesting and helpful. Now, I need to go back and make sure that our whole supply chain is using all of these capabilities.
Matties: I appreciate your time today very much.
Hawes: Thank you.