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Colombian Made Responsible for Safety of NASA’s Artemis Mission


Colombian Lilian Villareal has been made director of landing and recovery for NASA's Artemis II mission. Credit: NASA HQ PHOTO. CC BY-2.0/flickr
A Colombian aerospace engineer has been made responsible for the safety of NASA’s astronauts after the Artemis II mission. Credit-NASA-HQ-PHOTO.-CC-BY-2.0-flickr

A Colombian aerospace engineer has been named as the person responsible for the safety of NASA’s astronauts once they return to Earth after the Artemis II mission.

NASA’s Artemis program, which now aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon, has named Lili Villarreal its Artemis II landing and recovery director, making her responsible for the effort to retrieve astronauts from the Orion spacecraft after it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean following its 10-day mission around the moon.

“When they asked me to do the [landing and recovery director] job, I thought hard about it. I really wanted it because it’s an exciting and rewarding job, but also comes with significant responsibility. As the recovery director, you’re not just responsible for the safety of the crew, you’re also responsible for the safety of everybody who helps recover the crew,” Villarreal told NASA’s media team.

Villarreal, a Colombian aerospace engineer from Cartagena, joined NASA in 2007 and has previously served as deputy flow director of the Artemis I mission. In that role, she was responsible for the integration, assembly and testing of the Sistema rocket launch system, and the Orion spacecraft inside the Kennedy Center’s vehicle assembly building, prior to engineers taking the vehicles to the launch pad.

The aerospace engineer’s passion for space exploration began when she was seven, during a family trip to the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex in Florida. Speaking to NASA’s media team, she said, “I did not know what space was until I came to the visitor center, and we got to look at all the rockets on display, got to look at a spacesuit that went to the moon and I couldn’t believe that we, humanity, had achieved that. And I said, ‘that’s it, that’s what I want do’.”

Villareal and her family moved to Miami, Florida, when she was 10-years-old, and because she wanted to work in the space program, the committed future Colombian NASA employee embarked on a Bachelor of Science and Master’s Degree in aerospace engineering at the Georgian Institute of Technology, preparing her for this new Artemis role.

After graduation, Villareal landed a job with Boeing in Seattle, working on commercial aircraft before eventually moving south to work for NASA as a Boeing contractor.

“I didn’t grow up with Apollo, but when I started working here, I had the opportunity to meet people who worked those missions, and you could just feel how proud they were to have been part of such an amazing thing for humanity,” Villarreal said. “I worked on the space station program for over 15 years. I was ready to come over and work on Artemis because I wanted to be part of the NASA team that was returning humanity to the moon and eventually to Mars,” the Colombian said, “And I thought if I can somehow be a part of that, I wanted to do that.”

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