SMTAI 2019: To the Moon and Beyond


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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.

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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.

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