AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Amarillo native Holly Ridings is set to make history once again, this time, helping to take humans from the Moon to Mars.
In 2018, Ridings became NASA’s first female chief flight director. Now, she’s helping to lead NASA’s gateway program to establish humanity’s first space station around the Moon.
“For our Artemis 1 mission, this is our uncrewed mission where we’re going to test out our Orion spacecraft, and our SLS rocket and send Orion around the moon in order to understand how it works, put it through its paces, if you will,” she said on Friday.
After four to six weeks, NASA said the mission will end, testing Orion’s ability to return safely.
According to NASA, Orion and the SLS will fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown before. The trip to the Moon will take several days, then Orion will fly close to the Moon, about 62 miles above the surface. Then, Orion will use the gravitational force to propel into a deep retrograde orbit about 40,000 miles from the Moon.
“This particular launch is the first step in a series of missions,” said Ridings. “When you build new spaceships, you test them out without the humans first to make sure they’re safe. So the data we get from this mission is vital to the next mission, where we will put crew in Orion and send them around the moon, followed by a mission to land on the surface.”
Ridings said after that there will be another mission to visit the Gateway space station around the Moon.
“So you start out with this mission to have a series where we end up with a permanent capability, permanent human capability around and eventually on the surface of the Moon, headed to Mars. So [it’s] extremely, extremely important.”
According to Ridings, the Artemis Enterprise missions will take a while to go from uncrewed to crewed, with a little more than a year between missions.
Ridings said they have to be able to live and work permanently on the Moon before heading to Mars.
She said her project, the Gateway program, will do its first element launch in a couple of years, building out the permanent space station around the Moon to establish lunar permanence—before moving deeper into space.
“It’ll be that first piece. You know, everyone can go outside and look around the Moon and know that we’ve made it and established our foothold,” she said. “My son is 10, and I think [it’s] certainly in the not too distant future, you know, for him. So that next generation coming up behind us, that’s going to be the Mars generation.”
Ridings said the Artemis 1 launch will be the biggest event of her career to date.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do, you know, a lot of amazing things in spaceflight, but this, I think is gonna be the biggest,” said Ridings. “You know, for us as the Artemis generation, this will be the first time in our professional career that we are headed outside of low Earth orbit. So I think it ranks at the top.”
Ridings said she could not ask for a better job, and will stay as long as possible to do this work.
“I’m still pretty young, and we’ve got a lot of great work to do ahead of us, you know, to do that,” Ridings continued. “If you ask me, I’ll stay till we get to Mars. We’ll see if I can hang on that long. I think it’ll be awesome.”
The first launch attempt for the Artemis 1 mission is scheduled for Monday, August 29 at 8:33 a.m. Eastern from the Kennedy Space Center.