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Mountain West companies are helping NASA go back to the moon

The right half of the image is of the gray moon in deep space. On the left, in the foreground, is a NASA spacecraft.
NASA Johnson
Flickr Creative Commons
A portion of the far side of the moon looms large just beyond the Orion spacecraft in this image taken on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission by a camera on the tip of one of Orion’s solar arrays.

NASA’s first of several planned missions to the moon is on track to return to Earth on Dec. 11, and the space agency is getting help from dozens of companies across the U.S., including some in Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, New Mexico and Colorado.

The goal of NASA’s Artemis program is to establish permanent human settlements on the moon. The first mission, Artemis I, is a crewless expedition to test systems of NASA’s new Orion spacecraft.

Colorado-based Sierra Space provided negative-pressure relief valves for the craft, which allow astronauts to have sustainable breathable air, says company president Janet Kavandi.

“Sierra Space is just very proud to be a part of the return to the moon, the Artemis program, and everything that goes into that,” said Kavandi, a former NASA astronaut.

She said the company is also developing inflatable habitat structures that could be used for NASA’s settlements on the moon.

“It’s kind of science fiction coming true today,” she said. “And I think that’s just really fun to be a part of.”

Following the completion of Artemis I, NASA will choose a crew to fly around the moon on the Artemis II mission, which is tentatively set to launch in 2024. That would lay the foundation for Artemis III, putting a woman and a person of color on the moon for the first time.

NASA hasn’t put a human on the moon in half a century. The agency says it’s returning to the moon for three main reasons: scientific discovery, economic opportunities and inspiration for the next generation of explorers.

The agency plans to use what it learns on and around the moon for a mission that sends the first astronaut to Mars.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The photo included in this story is licensed under Flickr Creative Commons.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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