Legacy of Artemis and North Dakota in Space

The Artemis I rocket launched into space (Nov. 16), and is the next step to returning humans to the Moon for the first time since 1972. This mission will build the foundation for further exploration of the Moon, as well as lay the groundwork for sending astronauts to Mars by the 2030s.

The Apollo program — the last NASA project to land humans on the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s — was a resounding success and cemented the U.S. as the global space leader. During a time of major conflict, it became a point of national unity and aspiration. Artemis, along with our space defense programs, is inspiring the next generation of ingenuity and exploration.

Like the Apollo program, years of preparation and research went into the Artemis I launch. Our nation would not have achieved this monumental milestone without North Dakota’s critical contributions.

North Dakota State University (NDSU) is one of only seven university teams developing innovative design ideas to help NASA advance and execute its Artemis program objectives. NDSU’s team designed a preliminary concept for a remotely controlled solar-powered robot to build structures and roads on the lunar surface. This project is laying the foundation for future civil engineering projects on the Moon while also helping NASA create a sustained human presence on the lunar surface.

University of North Dakota (UND) is one of the few universities in the world to offer human spaceflight training. It is also the first university to operate a NASA-funded laboratory dedicated to designing and constructing space exploration and planetary surface exploration suits.

UND’s Space Studies Department Chair Dr. Pablo de Leon has devoted three decades to space and space engineering research, making pivotal contributions to our progress. His footprint extends beyond Grand Forks to the Kennedy Space Center where he is designing spacesuits and space habitats at the Space Life Sciences Lab to be used on the Moon or Mars. When you see our astronauts traversing space, North Dakota’s fingerprints are front and center for the world and the rest of the universe to see.

Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited UND in August 2019 calling it “one of the best aerospace schools on the planet.” I couldn’t say it better myself. His sentiments have been reiterated by government leadership I’ve had the privilege of bringing to North Dakota. U.S. Space Force, U.S. Space Command, and Space Development Agency (SDA) heads have all been impressed by the ecosystem our state has fostered. Most notably to me, they’ve been inspired by the curiosity and ingenuity of our people. Students, ROTC cadets, engineers, and airmen have shown up to each visit with a genuine interest in how to get involved, push the envelope, or make something better. The ethos of our citizens is the real distinction.

But our expertise is not limited to our excellent university system. In July 2021, Cavalier Air Force Station officially became part of the U.S. Space Force. Cavalier Space Force Station plays a critical role in our national security by effectively monitoring our adversaries’ space activities.

Grand Forks Air Force Base was approved to house the SDA’s first Ground Operations and Integration Center last year, and earlier this summer, I attended its ribbon-cutting ceremony. The SDA specifically chose Grand Forks for this important mission, which reflects the strength of our community’s expertise in advanced technologies and further cements our status as a center of excellence in space.

The North Dakota space ecosystem also highlights the intersection of space and agriculture and the opportunity to innovate in the AgTech industry. Solving challenges in space can also help solve challenges on Earth. When thinking about essentials every human needs like energy and food — and considering the fact farmable land is shrinking — technological advancements allow us to do more in smaller spaces. Much of this discovery takes place in space.

I am proud of North Dakota’s military, educational, and technical know-how for all things related to space, and I look forward to helping further our state’s leadership in all aspects of space.

The triumph of the Artemis I launch is a testament to American exceptionalism, as well as to the boundless ingenuity of the human race at large. Like the Apollo program, it unifies us all and inspires the next generation of space explorers, aerospace researchers, engineers, and scientists. Our success will change the world.


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