You could say Lititz native Jason Griffith has always had a fascination with how things work. And now, his chosen career is going to help safely return man to the moon in just a few short years.
The 2008 Warwick graduate, currently serves as the Mission Event Sequencing (MES) lead for the Artemis 1 mission, part of the Orion program team at Lockheed Martin Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Orion is NASA’s spacecraft, created for deep space human exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit. It’s a key piece of the Artemis program, and all part of NASA’s current plan of returning American astronauts to the moon by the year 2024.
“MES is Orion’s automation,” he explained. “You can think of MES as the conductor of the Orion spacecraft orchestra with the different systems (power, GN&C, crew systems, pyrotechnics, etc.) as instrument sections, MES keeping those systems in sync and working together to achieve the mission objectives and keep the crew safe.”
For Griffith, inspiration came at an early age and from a variety of sources.
“Between being transfixed by the big locomotives at the Strasburg Railroad growing up and interest in my grandfather’s work as an engineer at RCA (and later Burle), my mind was shaped towards thinking like an engineer,” he said. “I was encouraged further by my parents who along with emphasizing my education, tolerated me occasionally taking apart toys and appliances.”
Side trips to Kennedy Space Center when his family visited Florida would also fuel his passion. After graduating from high school, he earned his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 2012. He then pursued an ME (master of engineering) in space operations from the University of Colorado, in 2016.
Despite his current job duties, he hasn’t forgotten his roots.
“Being an engineer, math and science are big and I feel like Warwick put me in a very good position to succeed as I pursued my degree in aerospace engineering at RPI,” he said. “I also had great teachers in other areas who helped instill principles of good communication and critical thinking.”
He also cited his participation in sports during high school that helped shape him later in life.
“My experiences in athletics were also important, with coaches emphasizing the value of putting in the time and sweat and persevering through failures.”
Griffith has worked on the Orion program on and off since 2014 in several capacities. In 2016, he became the MES lead for the Artemis 1 mission.
“MES is kind of a jack-of-all-trades role on the Orion program which requires having a good handle on the design and operation of all the systems on the vehicle,” he explained. “Our MES team performs vehicle concept of operations development, timing analysis, vehicle integration activities, mission testing, defines the data that executes the mission-the music score in the orchestra analogy and whatever else needs to be done to pull the great work of the component and system level teams into a functional, integrated mission.”
“The ongoing testing is a combination of basic functional testing and more sophisticated mission testing where the vehicle thinks its ‘flying’ by hooking its sensors up to a simulator,” he added. “This anchors mission testing we do in simulation labs. Once that is completed, we’ll ship the spacecraft on NASA’s Super Guppy airplane up to Plumbrook, Ohio for thermal vacuum chamber testing.”
After that, it’s back to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for some final work before the craft can be considered ready for flight.
Currently, the plan for an uncrewed Artemis 1 is to take flight between 2020 and 2021. After that, the first flight containing a crew — Artemis 2 — is scheduled for 2022. Artemis 3 is then planned for 2024, which will see Orion rendezvousing in orbit with a lander to bring astronauts back to the surface of the Moon-a first since the days of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Despite all of his current responsibilities, Griffith always finds time to come back to the area to speak at local schools.
“I love speaking to students about space exploration,” he said. “The questions I get never fail to amaze me with how insightful and thought out they are. I think space is one of those things that really spark imagination in some kids. It’s also cool to show students a career that they might not be aware of.”
“I’m very blessed to be in the position I’m in,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of hard work all the way through, with some luck and good timing tossed in, but it’s definitely a realization of a dream that I’ve had since the first time I visited KSC as an elementary schooler,” Griffith said. “To see that begin to pay off has been pretty cool, and I actually relish the long hours as we work towards our goal of furthering humanity’s presence in space. To have some small impact on achieving that goal is my continued hope.”
Griffith encourages readers to learn more about NASA’s Artemis program at nasa.gov/what-is-artemis.