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Two Shelter Island grads are engineers on the NASA moon project

UPDATE: NASA cancelled the launch Monday morning because of an engine problem.

When NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center it will be unmanned.

But the hearts and hopes of two Shelter Island young men — Wyatt Brigham and Andrei Oraseanu, both 2013 graduates of Shelter Island High School and former interns with the Shelter Island Engineering Department — will be heavily invested in its success.

Wyatt Brigham (Courtesy photo)
Andrei Oraseanu (Courtesy photo)

Both men are mechanical engineers who have been part of the team preparing the rocket and its Orion capsule to be the first moon-centric mission in 50 years.

The last was the manned Apollo 17 flight in December 1972, representing the end of the Apollo program’s missions.

Mr. Oraseanu was involved in the engineering aspects of the space launch system for the Artemis rocket boosters, while Mr. Brigham has been with the engineering team that transferred the space vehicle to the launch pad, riding in the vehicle that moved it into place.

The young men credit their experiences at Shelter Island High school and being mentored by former Town Engineer John Cronin to furthering their dreams of someday working at the Kennedy Space Center. Mr. Brigham went to Clarkson University to study mechanical engineering. Mr. Oraseanu enrolled at Suffolk County Community College before transferring to the Florida Institute of Technology.

While their education made them “book smart” about mechanical engineering, according to Mr. Oraseanu, it was working with  Mr. Cronin in 2018 that allowed him to see what engineers actually do.

Mr. Brigham, who interned in 2017, said Mr. Cronin opened his eyes to some of the opportunities in the field.

“We spent plenty of time discussing appropriate engineering strategies to handle investigations and develop solutions,” Mr. Cronin said. “If they learned anything, it was to not fear what they may not know immediately, but to work collegially to find solutions. I tried to give them a safe environment in which to hone the give-and-take of truly being an engineer.”

Mr. Oraseanu has started work on a master’s degree at the University of Central Florida and is working toward securing a pilot’s license. He’s been offered a key role with Blue Origin, the private space vehicle company operated by Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. But long range, he hopes one day to become an astronaut. “That’s the plan,” he said.

“I like to keep my feet on the ground,” Mr. Brigham said, with plans to continue his work at the Kennedy Space Center.

With the Artemis program, NASA aims to start a decade-long program demonstrating greater sophistication potential for further moon exploration and eventual travel, perhaps to Mars.

This first Artemis mission is expected to come within 60 miles of the moon surface and then Orion will loop around the moon and reach beyond it at a distance of 40,000 miles, the deepest penetration into space that could carry humans in the future. Orion is slated to splash down in the Pacific Ocean 42 days later.

If all goes well Artemis 2 would be a flyby of the moon in 2024 and within this decade, Artemis 3 would represent the first manned landing on the moon since Apollo 17.