NASA’s Johnson Space
Center was abuzz in July with events and special appearances by the agency’s own
extraordinary members—those part of making history for humankind 50 years ago. A
1960s car parade kicked off the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, and a panel
featuring Johnson Director Mark Geyer, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins and astronaut
Anne McClain inspired employees eager for NASA’s next bold steps. Photo ops of
the legendary Gene Kranz went viral as he posed in the newly refurbished Apollo
Mission Control Center. Everywhere you turned, another exciting lecture or
party commenced—including one on the third annual National Intern Day held July
Gene Kranz in the newly restored Apollo Mission Control Center. Image
Credit: Michael Wyke/AP
Johnson’s Safety and Mission Assurance (S&MA)
Directorate celebrated National Intern Day by commemorating the Apollo program,
but with a focus on safety. This was a chance for co-ops and interns to meet, mingle,
network and learn about the safety hazards facing some of NASA’s iconic missions.
This year, S&MA invited
all NASA interns across the agency. Seven centers participated in the virtual
meeting, with a total of 588 attendees. Hosted out of Building 1 at Johnson, astronaut
and Deputy Director of S&MA Rex Walheim welcomed the group and introduced
the first speaker: Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich.
Kirasich gave his audience
a behind-the-scenes look at the progression of Artemis and Orion. He shared about
his journey to NASA, starting with a childhood memory of sitting between his
dad and sister on a gold-fabric couch that all-important day in July 1969.
During the commercial break of the Apollo 11 broadcast, 9-year-old Kirasich rushed
outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon.
Just 14 years later, he began his career at NASA and is now responsible for the
very spacecraft that will return our astronauts to the Moon. It’s the stuff of
After listening to
Kirasich talk about Orion while showing what he endearingly called his “family
photos” of the spacecraft, the interns learned lessons from our past—reiterating
that safety must be at the forefront of our minds as we reach for the Moon
S&MA showed four
documentaries detailing the risk, guts and triumph of Apollo, featuring real
stories from NASA professionals. The first film dove into the devastating
details of the Apollo 1 fire, and how that tragedy set new safety standards for
future missions. Retired NASA engineer Gary Johnson spoke to the root causes
and lessons learned from the fire that claimed the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom,
Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
Gary Johnson inspects the Apollo 1 Command Module. Image Credit: NASA
The second film took a deeper look at the achievements of Apollo 8, known as “the gutsiest mission in NASA history.” The first manned flight after Apollo 1, its mission was the first time humans hitched a ride on the Saturn V rocket. And, if the spacecraft’s engine didn’t pull through, the crew could have ended up in an indefinite orbit around the Moon—sealing their fate in a metal tomb.
Milt Heflin, a retired Apollo recovery officer featured in the film, said, “Calculating risk today is a much more scientific process. It makes you wonder—if you took the same process today and put it back in the Apollo timeframe, would we have actually gone? I’m not so sure.”
The third film explored the success of Apollo 11, showing how it united our country and the world. Apollo 11 voyaged half-a-million miles roundtrip, with a brief stop, to put the first humans on the Moon. This daring giant leap drove NASA forward with fervor.
The final film regaled the young audience about the ingenuity of NASA’s astronauts, mission control and engineers as they turned Apollo 13, from its original intention, into a rescue mission.
A big take-home message was to never be complacent. No matter how many times a mission is successful—it can always fail. When considering the complexities of human spaceflight, a vast number of actions have to fall into place to succeed. If any one of those steps goes awry, the integrity of the mission changes and can result in catastrophe.
“Spaceflight is never routine,” Johnson emphasized.
These valuable lessons lingered with the interns, sparking more discussion and Q&A with S&MA experts and retired employees after the conclusion of the event.
Interns (top to bottom) from NASA’s Ames Research Center, Headquarters and Johnson Space Center congregate to take part in a special "movie night" as part of National Intern Day. Image Credit: NASA
Orion Program Manager Mark Kirasich was a featured guest speaker. Image Credit: NASA