SLS Artemis 1 launch
NASA's Space Launch System lifts off for the first time on the Artemis 1 uncrewed test flight Nov. 16. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

ORLANDO, Fla. — NASA is wrapping up an effort to collect lessons learned from the Artemis 1 mission that address both technical and programmatic issues that the agency hopes to apply more broadly to the overall Artemis lunar exploration campaign.

During a panel at the SpaceCom conference here Jan. 31, NASA and industry officials discussed a wide-ranging effort to formally collect lessons from the 2022 mission that can be used to assist both future Artemis missions as well as other parts of its exploration portfolio.

“We wanted to come up with a way to capture all the lessons learned, to have Artemis 2 be as successful as possible,” said Janet Karika, principal advisor for space transportation at NASA, who is leading the effort capture lessons learned from the mission. “So, we took a new approach to lessons learned.”

That involved, she said, talking to people throughout the workforce at all levels, as well as other internal and external stakeholders. The effort also involved experts in knowledge capture to ensure that the lessons learned are, in fact, learned.

“It’s not just about documenting the lessons. It’s about the behavior and process of transferring those lessons to individuals,” said Zudayyah Taylor-Dunn, chief knowledge officer of NASA’s space operations and exploration systems development mission directorates.

Many of the lessons learned from Artemis 1 are technical ones involving the Space Launch System, Orion, and Exploration Ground Systems. John Shannon, mission area vice president at Boeing Exploration Systems, said one lesson was difficulty accessing parts of the SLS once at the pad for repairs. “Really having that late access to hardware at the pad is going to be a requirement for future missions,” he said.

Paul Anderson, deputy program manager for Orion at Lockheed Martin, said the company had identified lessons learned in four broad areas: pre-launch processing, deep space operations, the Orion heat shield and radiation effects on electronics.

Unexpected erosion of heat shield material on Artemis 1 was one factor in NASA’s decision last month to delay the Artemis 2 mission from late 2024 to no earlier than September 2025. “We are very close to understanding exactly what happened,” he said.

A lesson learned for ground systems is the effect of the SLS launch on the mobile launch platform, which suffered damage from that liftoff. “I used to tell people, 8.8 million pounds of thrust leaving the launch pad tends to leave a mark,” said Lorna Kenna, vice president and program manager at Jacobs Space Operations Group. “There were some systems that we needed to make improvements on,” which she added was almost complete.

Other lessons learned were more on management and coordination. Kenna said Artemis 1 demonstrated the need for “fully partnered schedules” with the various programs more closely sharing their progress to enable others to make more informed decisions.

“Individual stakeholders will make risk trades based on what may be an overly optimistic schedule,” she said. On Artemis 1, she recalled that Exploration Ground Systems held off on replacing ground equipment because they were told they were “just this close to launch” only to suffer delays. “If we had a fully partnered schedule early on, we could have made better risk trade decisions about things we were doing from a ground ops perspective.”

“Schedule realism is a huge part of some of our lessons learned,” Karika said, citing it as one reason for the recent Artemis 2 delay. “We have all the contractors together and we meet together to talk about challenges and the schedule as a team.”

While the lessons learned will most immediately support Artemis 2, she said she expects the effort to help other parts of the overall Artemis lunar exploration campaign, including the Human Landing System, lunar Gateway and spacesuits. “We’re also making sure we pass those lessons on to them.”

That effort also includes, Taylor-Dunn said, addressing any concerns of “organizational silence” so that people will raise issues that can become lessons learned. “That is key. We have to get each other to talk and feel comfortable with talking,” she said. “I would charge our leadership to foster and promote a learning organization.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...