HAMPTON, Va. - T-minus one month until NASA's Artemis I mission blasts off.
Destination? Earth's Moon.
The unmanned trip, scheduled for launch no earlier than August 29, is a test to make sure the Orion space capsule can make it to the Moon and back when it carries the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface in the coming years.
“It’s going to be one of the thrills of my life and my career at NASA. I’ve been waiting for this moment forever," said Darlene Pokora, Project Manager for the Orion capsule.
Pokora began working at NASA shortly before the Challenger explosion in 1986 — a reminder of what can happen if she and her team don't get it right by the time spacecraft are manned for Artemis II and III.
“We have a family at NASA. We care about our astronauts," she said.
Pokora's story is one of hundreds from the local engineers working on the Artemis project at NASA Langley Research Center, whether it be the Orion capsule, Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) or the Space Launch System.
The center says the team in Hampton will be watching closely when the rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“It’s almost surreal to have worked on one single thing for ten years and to finally see it be real.”
said Space Launch System aerosciences team lead Jeremy Pinier.
Joining Pinier and Pokora in Florida for the launch will be Jennifer Inman, Project Manager for the Scientifically Calibrated In-Flight Imagery (SCIFLI) team, which gathers data during take off and the later splash down to ensure the spacecraft worked as it should during the mission.
Like Pokora, Inman is a woman in a field that's still considered male-dominated. She wears a "shatter the glass ceiling" necklace as a reminder that her own groundbreaking work at Langley is taking women literally further than they've ever gone before.
“It’s been a lonelier journey than I expected it to be, honestly, as a woman in a male-dominated field. I have a lot of support here, but the idea of seeing the first woman step foot on the moon. I’m glad that’s something I get to see in my lifetime," she told News 3.
Should the Artemis I mission succeed, Pinier says Artemis II is expected to send a manned rocket around the Moon and back in 2024. Then, in 2025, Artemis III would bring the first woman and next man to the lunar surface.