Sara Rengifo contributed to the creation of the Space Launch System rocket for the Artemis mission. It is her “baby” and her NASA.
She contributed to the creation of rovers, robots, rockets and ships like Artemis, which will one day reach the Moon.
At NASA there are two frequently mentioned functions. Either you work for the Moon or you work for Mars. Mechanical engineer Sara Rengifo Álvarez, a graduate of Eafit University, works for the Moon. Later she will also do it for Mars.
When the Artemis mission achieves its main objective in 2024, which is to settle the first humans on the Moon, it will continue working from NASA so that humanity reaches the red planet.
Its task is to evaluate the moving parts such as pistons, bearings, gears and pulleys of robots, rovers (astromobiles, which are like space cars), space suits of astronauts and rockets like the “Nasa baby” the Space Launch System which is the rocket that will put Orion, the Artemis mission ship, into orbit.
In addition to working on these moving parts, he also investigates the materials with which the ships are built and finally, tests their wear and if they would withstand an environment other than that of Earth —because the environmental conditions beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, they are different.
“Moon dust is abrasive and causes moving parts to get stuck and not work. We are developing materials that help robots, suits and rovers survive the radiation from space and the abrasion of lunar dust”, explains Sara Rengifo.
That was a problem with the Apollo missions in the 1960s, because lunar dust affected parts of the astronauts’ space suits, Sara says.
Her work is done in the Tribology and Metrology laboratories of the Marshall Space Flight Center, which is one of the 14 centers that is in charge of Artemis and the cradle of NASA. The first of them.
She came to the space agency in 2015 when she was looking for her own destiny in the space company. “I started looking for a job at Nasa and a teacher told me I wasn’t going to find it because going to that company was difficult,” she recalls.
She made the decision to pursue an opportunity after completing her Masters in Materials Science at Florida International University, while she was researching and working in the area of tribology.
This is the science that studies the friction, wear and lubrication that occurs between solid surfaces in motion. She liked her a lot, and she realized that with this area of research she could get there, where there were many machines like rockets to evaluate.
She applied for a vacancy through the USA Jobs online platform and a few days later they called her. College Sara never thought she would get this far. But it’s already been seven years that she’s been there at the Marshall Center.
It is where all the engineers are testing and testing materials, rudimentary parts that make up the large rockets that will later take off into outer space.
But they don’t take off there, it’s at the Kennedy Space Center. All the ships that Sara tests in Marshall travel by sea to Kennedy where they meet their final destination.
Her participation in Artemis
Sara Rengifo has touched the Artemis rocket. And more than that, she has helped shape it. She says it is divided into three parts: an orangeade which is where the hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks are.
A second part made up of solid fuels that work like the ‘spouts’ of gunpowder (because a rocket is a controlled explosion) and a third part that is the Orion capsule, the ship that will orbit the Moon or that will be the exhaust system for astronauts, in case something goes wrong during launch.
Although she would not travel to space because she has two daughters (Samantha, 7 years old, and Amelia Parra, 3 years old) and her husband Mauricio Parra and does not want to “take risks”, she says that her biggest dream is to continue with Artemis and one day see the man based on the moon.
“The mission will teach us to maintain human beings in environments like the one on the Moon. Once we learn how human beings can live without the Earth’s atmosphere, taking advantage of lunar natural resources to create oxygen and water, the next destination will be Mars”, says Rengifo. He says that there are now professionals focused only on the red planet, doing studies on how to launch rockets from that planet and fly planes.
Another of her projects is the Environmental Control and Life Support System to recycle steam, sweat and urine to ensure the survival of astronauts on the International Space Station, to which she has also devoted much of her work. her as an engineer.
She has won awards that have been given by the astronauts themselves, such as the Nasa trailblazer for her contribution to space travel during the first 7 years of her career; the Nasa early career honor medal, for her significant performance during the first 10 years of her career; the Green run testing nasa-sls recognition, the Orion investigation honor team award and the Memorandum of appreciation for exceptional Demo-2 mission contribution.
She is now conducting material tests for the next voyages of Artemis.
The first unmanned voyage (Artemis I) is planned to launch this year. (read parenthesis). But tests are already being carried out for the next Artemis missions, which will already be manned and will give the first look at the Moon, the source of inspiration for Sara’s work.