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“If we don’t go back to the moon, others will.” Dr. David Burns, NASA

The Arnold Community Council held its 2019 annual banquet this past week to celebrate the success of the council’s work with AEDC and future projects. 

The banquet saw the passing of the gavel to new officers of the council and featured a revelation about plans to return to the moon.

Keynote speaker for the banquet was Dr. David Burns, Director of the Science and Technology Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Dr. Burns is familiar with the workings of AEDC and its missions from his time in the military. He opened his presentation with recalling the time he was stationed at AEDC working on a secret project. He noted the project was so secret that they had to wear civilian clothes so not give away they were military personnel. The problem, he pointed out, was that the clothes were ill-fitted for them and he wondered what civilians thought when they saw them in their clothes with military haircuts, giving each other nods.

“Are they in a band or something? What’s going on?” said Dr. Burns when pondering what other civilians thought at the time. 

He finished his story saying his memories were some of his fondest in his career.

“I treasure my days at AEDC,” said Dr. Burns. “I was absolutely astounded by the talent and commitment of the work at AEDC.  It was the hands on work. It was the talent as well as the infrastructure.”

He said he hopes Marshall Space Flight Center continues to develop an infrastructure that’s similar to AEDC.

Dr. Burns’ presentation focused on Artemis, NASA’s path to the moon and the next step in human exploration.

He started his presentation by explaining that Marshall is separated into three groups: Science and Technology Office, where Dr. Burns leads and works; the Human Exploration Office, where it manages the work that happens on the space station and the Space Launch System.

Dr. Burns said they are considering the challenges of going back to the moon and eventually going to Mars. One of the challenges is the weight loss astronauts experience in zero gravity.

 “The astronauts on the space station lose about 1.5% of their bone mass every month while in zero-g,” said Dr. Burns. “We think of challenges in terms of distance, radiation, food, trying to build a system robust enough, from a safety point of view, for the astronauts to stay safe while travelling.”

He explained why going to back to the moon is his passion. It all started when he was a kid sitting in his dad’s station wagon listening to the radio of the Apollo 11 mission.

“I could see the Moon and I knew that there were Americans on the Moon and I could listen to their voices on the radio.  It was profound and by far that was the biggest influence on my life.”

He talked about being part of the generation that was excited about space exploration and going back to the moon but acknowledged the next generation, who had more negative experiences with space explorations given 9-11 and the Challenger disaster, made it more polarizing. 

Dr. Burns said it was important that Americans go back to the moon.

“If we don’t go back to the moon, others will.  If we don’t go back to the moon fairly soon, we may not be able to ourselves in the future. We may have many other things to pay for and focus on.” 

He said the goal is to go back to the moon in 2024 and improving technology to go to Mars. He noted that travelling back to the Moon is really being driven by the private sectors like SpaceX and Boeing. 

Dr. Burns then showed the engines and tanks that they are working on for the shuttles, which 20 of them are being reused from other space shuttles. He showed the different designs to explain to attendees what they are doing in order for the shuttles to be ready for the trip back to the moon.

He then showed the Human Landing System that he was managing before it was moved to its own project office.  He said the purpose of the project was figuring out a way to get four astronauts to get to the surface of the moon and back to Earth safely. 

“What we want to get is ability to take four astronauts to the surface and have them work on the surface for a very long time and come back.”  He also said there are 11 different companies that are supporting and helping with the project like SpaceX and Boeing. 

He discussed that the plan is to land on the south pole of the moon, where they believe is a large amount of water is stored.

“It’s been said that water is the oil of space and we should view the poles as the Persian Gulf,” said Dr. Burns. “You don’t only need it for rocket fuel, you need it to drink, and to make oxygen and it enables you to go forward. It’s easier to lift water on the moon than it is on Earth.”

Dr. Burns then explained the eco system is set up where 80% of the water used is recycled in as it’s very important to recycle water. He explained when he first started at Marshall, he worked in the lab where they worked on recycling water and was asked to drink the recycled water, with the mindset being if the astronauts are going to drink it then the scientists should be able to. 

Along with talk of returning to the moon, he went on to talk about the history of Marshall Space Flight Center and the four sciences they focus on studying: Astrophysics, the study of the universe, Heliophysics, the study of the Sun on the Solar System, Planetary Science, and Earth Science.

He also talked about Redstone Arsenal, who hosts Marshall, and their various projects and centers that make up the base. He noted that one of the final exams students have to complete is blowing up cars to study the chemicals used, what detonator was used, what triggered the explosion, and so on.

 “To make a long story short, if you have a used car you need to sell, Huntsville is your place,” said Dr. Burns.

He mentioned that testing nowadays is mostly mathematical testing, so for them to get to test engines and tanks in person is an opportunity that doesn’t happen often.

He finished his presentation by talking about using x-rays to understand cosmic mysteries like black holes, dark energy, and supernovas. He said x-rays are the new frontier for studying space and Marshall is starting to go towards smaller projects. 

“I believe in the near future of Marshall Space Flight Center you’re going to see a lot more smaller projects and a lot more partnerships with other centers as well as other national partners,” said Dr. Burns.

After his presentation, Dr. Burns was presented a gift bag of local products, including coffee from Black Rifle Coffee, by members of the ACC for coming to the banquet.

The night ended with outgoing President of ACC Claude Morse passing the gavel to incoming President Ron Schlagheck. 

“Tonight’s kind of bittersweet, I’ve been involved with the council since its inception in 2000.  It’s been an honor to serve as President,” said Morse.

Incoming President Ron Schlagheck says one of his goals is to start bringing in younger volunteers to ACC.

“I hope to improve on that. Our organization needs to represent. From what I hear from other communities out there, we are one of the best communities and it’s all in this room that makes that true,” said Schlagheck.

Some of the notable guests at the banquet were Congressman John Rose, State Senator Janice Bowling, Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell, AEDC Airman of the Year 2018 Tactical Sgt. Alexisa Humphrey and Commander of AEDC Colonel Jeff Geraghty.

The next ACC meeting will meet Jan 14 at 7:45 p.m.

Kyle Murphy may be reached at kmurphy@tullahomanews.com.

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