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Lockheed Martin’s Lisa Callahan on building a lunar lander collaboratively (and during COVID)

NASA’s Artemis mission is just starting to get underway, and among the commercial partnerships vying for the privilege of building the lunar landing system is one between Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin, which is leading the effort. Lockheed VP and GM of Commercial Civil Space Lisa Callahan says that the collaboration has been surprisingly smooth […]

NASA’s Artemis mission is just starting to get underway, and among the commercial partnerships vying for the privilege of building the lunar landing system is one between Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin, which is leading the effort. Lockheed VP and GM of Commercial Civil Space Lisa Callahan says that the collaboration has been surprisingly smooth and fruitful.

Speaking at TC Sessions: Space, Callahan expressed her excitement for being able to take part in such an endeavor to begin with: “Who wouldn’t want to do that? That’s pretty awesome,” she said. “A lot of our workforce wasn’t around in the Apollo days, so they’re really excited to be a part of this next generation and bringing astronauts back to the moon — and for me personally, the fact that we’re going to bring the first woman to the moon is just amazing.”

She explained that Lockheed is working on the ascent module, while Northrup Grumman and Draper are working on other components, and Blue Origin, the prime contractor, is making the descent module.

“It’s a really fun combination of the entrepreneurial, from the Blue Origin perspective, with some of the heritage companies that Lockheed and Northrop Grumman and Draper provide going back to the Apollo days, to bring a kind of national time together for this national priority,” she said.

Here’s how Blue Origin’s human lander system will carry astronauts to the lunar surface

One might fairly expect a bit of friction between the old rivals and the newcomer, but according to Callahan it’s been extremely constructive.

“It’s a merging of different cultures, and I think everyone on the team is growing because of it,” she said. “Blue Origin has been a great prime, they’ve really welcomed everybody in a sort of… what I’ll call a badge-less environment. I don’t think if you were sitting in one of the technical interchange meetings that we have, you would even know who works for who. Because we just bring the best of breed and who has the right experiences to do the job we’ve got to the table. So it’s really been quite seamless, and we’ve had a lot of fun with it.”

All despite the pandemic, which has caused nearly every company to change the way it operates. Callahan said that this has really put existing efforts to modernize operations into focus rather than upend their plans.

“We’ve been investing for probably the last five years or more in what we’re calling digital transformation — so, digital collaboration tools, building digital twins of our spacecraft, so multiple people can work on the design at the same time,” she explained. “The silver lining, if you want to think about it that way is… COVID has just helped to accelerate those. It’s teaching us that we can really collaborate in this kind of virtual environment in ways that maybe we’d never thought of.”

Lockheed’s next big milestone is the delivery of its Orion spacecraft to Kennedy Space Station in Cape Canaveral.

“We’re really excited. We’ll be delivering that system over the VAB [NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building], and it’ll go through its launch prep for a launch that will happen in 2021. And that will be the first time Orion will have launched off of the Space Launch System,” Callahan said.

Missed the event? Extra Crunch subscribers get access to full videos from our stage, including TC Sessions: Space, Disrupt, and all the rest. You can sign up here.

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