When Lili Villarreal was 7 years old, her family went to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. From that moment on, Villarreal was hooked on space exploration. Villareal recently was named NASA’s Artemis II landing and recovery director in the agency’s Exploration Ground Systems Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, and is responsible for the effort to retrieve astronauts from the Orion spacecraft after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean following its 10-day mission around the Moon.
“I did not know what space was until I came to the visitor center, and we got to look at all the rockets on display, got to look at a spacesuit that went to the Moon and I couldn’t believe that we, humanity, had achieved that,” Villarreal said. “And I said, ‘that’s it, that’s what I want do.’”
Between now and Artemis II, teams will rehearse all the steps and procedures to make sure they’re ready for crewed flights. This involves conducting several underway recovery tests where NASA and U.S. Navy teams will practice retrieving astronauts from a representative version of Orion at sea and bringing them – and Orion – back to the ship. Teams will also conduct tests at Kennedy.
“That’s my job – to train the different forces to be able to recover the crew,” Villarreal said. “We have to recover the crew in the open ocean within two hours of splashdown before bringing the capsule inside the well deck.”
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