Hamilton graduate part of NASA’s Artemis I project: What he does

Hamilton native Jon Millard is part of a team making history as a key member of NASA’s Artemis I project.

On launch day, which could be as soon as Saturday, he will be in the Mission Control Center as the historic rocket takes flight and orbits around the moon.

The 2003 Hamilton graduate now living in Strongsville, Ohio, is the lead propulsion engineer for the Orion Service Module Propulsion subsystem on the Artemis I project, whose goal is to return Americans to the moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972. The program ended in 1975.

During and after the launch of Artemis I ― now slated for just after 2 p.m. Saturday but which could be as late as Tuesday ― Millard will be in Houston at the Mission Evaluation Room, which is within the Mission Control Center at NASA Johnson Space Center. His job is to monitor the data, “making sure my propulsion subsystem is healthy and operating correctly while out in space and orbiting the moon.”

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Credit: Provided

Artemis I is an unmanned mission designed to test the Artemis rocket and the Orion crew capsule (in which astronauts will eventually ride during later missions), ensuring it can support an eventual manned mission. This rocket will orbit the moon and then return to Earth. A manned Artemis flight around the moon is expected as early as 2024, and the first lunar landing since Apollo 17 could be in 2025.

Millard, 37, and a 2008 Ohio State University graduate, has worked on human space flight his entire career.

“It’s the part of space flight I’m most passionate about,” he said of manned flights, “so I’ve always looked for those specific opportunities to get involved.”

Millard started as an engineer for the United Space Alliance at Kennedy Space Center, processing the Space Shuttle orbiters, calling it “one of the most absolute coolest things I’ve ever experienced” as he crawled around the orbiters and performed functional checkouts before and after flights.

Then he was hired at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where he worked as engineer on the Artemis Space Launch Systems Core Stage and Interim Cryogenic Propellant Stage before being transferred to the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

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Credit: Provided

The Glenn Research Center then took ownership of the Artemis Orion Service Module and needed engineers with human spaceflight and propulsion experience. He became the lead for the Main Engine Thrust Vector Control group and eventually the lead for the Service Module Propulsion Integration group.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do my entire life,” he said. “Being a part of something so much bigger than yourself and for the benefit of all humankind is really fulfilling and rewarding in life.”

This project is arguably the high point thus far of Millard’s aerospace career, along with working on Space Shuttle program. He recalled reviewing Launch Commit Criteria requirements and thinking, “Man, the guys that created these 40 years ago were smart,” and wondered if they thought those requirements would be used nearly a half-century later.

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Credit: Provided

Now he’s one of the engineering pioneers writing Launch Commit Criteria requirements for a project he hopes nearly two generations later will have “some kid from Hamilton looking at my Launch Commit Criteria.”

Working in the field of space exploration is what he has always wanted to do.

“Just asked all my Hamilton friends who went to Lincoln Elementary School with me,” Millard said, recalling the former elementary school’s fight song, “We Are The Lincoln Lions, Hear Us Roar.”

His inspiration was his dad, who spent a lifetime working for NASA and the space industry. While that got him “hooked” on space early in life, his mom also inspired him.

“Growing up, she always told me I was going to be the first man on Mars,” Millard said. “She drove me to dream big, never doubted my capability to do what I am passionate about, and pushed me to become a better person.”

Though being the first man on Mars isn’t next for Millard, his next project is actually four.

“The crazy thing about my job right now is I work on more than one Orion vehicle at a time,” he said. “In fact, I’m involved with four Orion vehicles simultaneously, and it can get up to 5 at times.”

While he’s still involved with Artemis I, he’s working on the Artemis II, III, and IV missions. He’s support-testing the integrated Orion Service Module hardware for Artemis II, delivering hardware for Artemis III, and trying to optimize propellant (gas for the spacecraft) for Artemis IV.

“Working on NASA flight programs, there’s not much downtime, and there’s always something to do,” he said. “I stay busy and look forward to continuing to make contributions for the benefit of all humankind.”

Credit: Provided

Credit: Provided

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