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Merritt Island Facility teams support historic launch of NASA’s Artemis 1

Air Liquide support historic launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 with supply of high-pressure nitrogen to Kennedy Space Center

Published on December 01, 2022

6 mins

For over 50 years, dating back to the Apollo era missions in 1968, Air Liquide has played a valuable role in NASA’s advancement of the U.S. space program through the supply of high pressure nitrogen. The continuous supply of nitrogen has been integral to the lunar missions of the 1970’s, the thirty year Space Shuttle program, the construction of the International Space Station, and most recently the first commercial launches of crew and cargo to orbit from U.S. soil since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

The next step for NASA’s space program is the Artemis mission. This mission would aim to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon to explore the lunar surface and lay the groundwork for sending astronauts to Mars. NASA envisions a series of missions including Artemis I, an uncrewed test flight which will circle and fly past the Moon; Artemis II, a crewed flight beyond the Moon, which will take humans the furthest ever in space; and Artemis III, which will land the first female astronaut and first astronaut of color on the Moon.

To support this mission, Air Liquide’s Merritt Island, Florida facility would need to supply nearly double the amount of high-pressure nitrogen than any previous launch. This required an expansion of the Merritt Island facility. An extensive collaborative effort requiring considerations of risks, engineering challenges, commercial operations and plant project management was instrumental to ensure design upgrades at the site were successful and a renewed ten-year contract with NASA.

Set to launch in 2022, the mission encountered a number of setbacks.  In late August the first attempts to launch the Artemis I rocket were scrubbed, followed by the rocket being rolled back for protection from Hurricane Ian in September. After several weeks of delay, a launch window in November was determined. As the launch window grew closer, Hurricane Nicole hit Florida. This resulted in moving the launch date to the early morning of November 16 - which made this launch the 50th launch the Merritt Island site supported this year.

With the launch date confirmed, the teams began the twelve-hour preparations of supplying the high-pressure nitrogen to Launch Complex-39B at Kennedy Space Center. In the final hours of the countdown, a hydrogen leak in a valve threatened to delay the launch again. With the rocket nearly fully fueled, a small group known as the ‘red team’ was sent out to the launch pad to fix the problem. The team was able to tighten the hardware and NASA was able to proceed with countdown. As everyone anxiously awaited, the Artemis I successfully launched on November 16 at 1:47 am EST.  After years of working with NASA on the project and long hours from all the teams, it was truly a moment of celebration filled with emotions to watch as this historic event came to fruition.

View of the Artemis 1 launch from Merritt Island site.

“This was a true team effort and an exciting moment for Air Liquide and for all those instrumental to making this happen,” Stacy Michael, Merritt Island plant manager, stated.  “We could not have done this without the support from the entire zone.  Thank you for working together to be part of this historic event.”

Ten hours later, the teams celebrated with a luncheon and were presented with an award from Adam Peters, CEO of Air Liquide North America for the over 50 years of support to NASA and U.S. Space Program and this historic accomplishment.

Congratulations to the following who were instrumental in this achievement!

Al Cusson, Josh Franz, Micheal Giese, Julie Heil, Corey Hicks, Diane Ho, Bryant Jackson, Steven Jordan, Mark Jordan, Raza Kazimi, Chris Knowles, Cherie LaGuerre, Joshua Mentzell, Stacy Michael, Larry Miner, John O’Meara, Kaitlyn Orth, Stephen Pishney, Krishna Punwasi, and Denis Simon.