“It has been nearly 50 years since we last stepped on the moon… We are getting ready to take humans back to the moon and beyond, to Mars,” Iyer told TOI.
Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight of the spacecraft Orion, the first of three complex missions for exploration on the moon and Mars. Orion will travel 280,000 miles (over 4,50,000 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon in a three-week mission. In that time, it will collect data while mission controllers will go over the performance of the spacecraft to set the stage for Artemis II, when a crewed spacecraft will orbit the moon. Finally, in 2024, Artemis III will take astronauts to the moon.
As the launch integrated product team lead with Boeing, Iyer is engaged with the component of the Artemis I which will take Orion into space — the Space Launch System (SLS) — whose core stage arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in late April. She has been involved with SLS for two years now.
“SLS is the most powerful rocket in the world … Boeing is responsible for building the rocket’s core stage, which contains the main propulsion system and avionics (electronic systems). It is designed to operate for about 500 seconds, reach 530,000 feet in altitude before breaking away. My role involves overseeing any post-production support that NASA needs once the core stage is built and handed over to NASA,” Iyer said. “The major parts of the Artemis I rocket have all been built and tested separately. My team from Boeing … is going to support NASA at Kennedy Space Center with assembly, integration and testing. We will also be monitoring data displays and providing support on launch day.” The launch is scheduled for November this year.
Iyer was one of the first women to graduate in mechanical engineering in her college, VLB Janakiammal College, in 1992. “I was the fourth batch from my college with a mechanical engineering degree and one of the first women to do so. When I got placed, I was the only woman in my batch. I was asked to find another woman ‘for safety’. I had to convince a friend,” she said.
Now, she leads a diverse team of mechanical and electrical engineers. “Involved with the SLS launch are engineers who have been part of the human space exploration program for 30-40 years since the shuttle days. There are engineers who are new. I also have the pleasure of leading women and people from different countries,” she said. “My manager — the director of production, test and launch — is a woman. Her manager — vice-president of space and launch engineering — is as well. The NASA SLS launch director and NASA core stage element leader are women … It has been great seeing more women in the field.”