Off to the Moon, Then to Mars
Woman from Trimountain and her cousin are both working to send humans to other planets
By Jennifer Donovan
Will your grandchildren or great-grandchildren colonize Mars? An aerospace engineer who grew up in Trimountain and her cousin have been working on a NASA mission to help make that possible.
Artemis I is due to launch Tuesday from Cape Kennedy, headed for the moon. It’s the third scheduled launch; one in August and another in September had to be scrubbed due to technical issues.
Tess Falor, a Jeffers High School graduate, worked on the Orion space capsule that will ride on the SLS rocket that her cousin, Jesse McEnulty, helped design. The unmanned space capsule will test some technology required to send a future manned mission to Mars. Orion will travel within 60 miles of the moon, then go into lunar orbit 40,000 miles beyond the moon, the farthest that a human-rated spacecraft has ever traveled.
Falor, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class at Jeffers, works for Red Canyon Engineering and Software, a subcontractor for Lockheed Martin on the Orion space capsule. A member of Red Canyon’s electrical integration and test team, she worked on Orion’s propulsion system—the rockets that control how the spacecraft moves.
Space Hooked Her Early
“I’ve been interested in space as long as I can remember,” she says.
In 10th grade, Falor took a career aptitude test, and aerospace engineering came up on top of the list. She did a Summer Youth Program at Michigan Tech on women in engineering and went on to study aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. She earned a PhD at the University of California at Berkeley.
Falor and McEnulty’s fathers are brothers. Both were pilots, which McEnulty says probably influenced his career choice and his cousin’s. But she grew up in the Keweenaw, and he grew up in Colorado. They both decided to go into aerospace engineering. When Falor was part of a team developing an uncrewed Atlas-V rocket that launched from the Kennedy Space Center, McEnulty was working at the space center, and they got to share their experiences during the launch.
“She was viewing the launch from one location, and I from another, sending pictures back and forth,” McEnulty recalls. “I was so excited for her.”
Now McEnulty works at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where he tested the SLS rocket’s thrust vector control system, which moves the rocket engine nozzles around to steer the vehicle. He also supports launches from the control room in Huntsville, analyzing data from the thrust vector control system prior to launch and during flight.
So he won’t be at the launch in person on Tuesday. He’ll be doing a 12-hour shift in the control room in Huntsville, monitoring every technical detail of the launch. But he doesn’t regret not being at Cape Kennedy.
“Our control room has nice big screens,” he says. “And frankly, I prefer actually working the launch and being directly involved as opposed to just watching, even in-person.”
Falor and McEnulty were delighted to find themselves working on different ends of the Artemis project.
“I've always found it interesting that our work is at opposite ends of the rocket, hers being up on the clean, pointy spacecraft end, and mine being down at the blunt, oily fire producing end,” McEnulty says.
Life Off Earth
Why is it important for missions like Artemis to take astronauts to the far reaches of space?
“I think a lot about the far future,” Falor explains. “There are threats to earth – asteroids, natural disasters, man-made problems like climate change. I would like humanity to be able to live in different locations, off earth. It’s important for us to explore and learn to live elsewhere, to keep humanity going.”
NASA aims to follow Artemis I with more trips to the moon. Artemis II, currently scheduled for 2024, will be crewed and fly around the moon. Artemis III, planned for 2025, will land a woman and a person of color on the moon for the first time.
At the same time, at Michigan Tech, Professor Greg Odegard is leading a multi-university research project to develop lighter, stronger materials for the future Mars mission. Odegard, who holds the John D. Halquist Endowed Chair in Computational Mechanics at Tech, heads the Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP), funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Affordable deep space exploration will require lighter and stronger building materials for the manufacture of next-generation transit vehicles, habitats, power systems and other space exploration systems. US-COMP is working to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength, lightweight aerospace structural material that will enable future spacecraft to take crews far beyond the moon.
Maybe to Mars.