His efforts will make moon shot possible

Sep. 4—Tim Chapman of Orofino will be watching an upcoming Artemis I launch from Kennedy Space Center with more than casual interest.

Born in Weippe, Chapman, 57, finished his career at Boeing as a manager on a team that tested the core stage for Artemis I, the largest rocket ever built.

The core stage stands more than 212 feet tall and is almost 28 feet in diameter. It will carry 730,000 gallons of supercooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to fuel engines that will propel the Orion unmanned crew module into outer space.

Chapman has confidence in Artemis I even though its voyage has been delayed more than once, most recently on Saturday after NASA reported a hydrogen leak.

"I know it's going to launch," he said. "I think it will be very successful. It's having the patience for everyone involved. Good launch conditions are hard to come by. The weather can't be too cold or too windy on the surface (or) up high."

NASA is investigating what happened Saturday.

"An inadvertent command was sent" that temporarily raised the pressure in a propulsion system during an early phase of hydrogen loading operations, according to a NASA press release.

"While the rocket remained safe and it is too early to tell whether the bump in pressurization contributed to the cause of the leaky seal, engineers are examining the issue," according to the release.

The goal of Artemis I is to establish a sustainable presence on the moon to prepare for missions to Mars, according to NASA.

The uncrewed Orion spacecraft will go 40,000 miles beyond the moon and 280,000 miles from Earth on a three-week mission, according to NASA.

"We've never done that before," Chapman said. "This is huge."

The spacecraft will carry two mannequins, named Helga and Zohar and manufactured from materials that mimic human bones, soft tissues and the organs of adult women. Zohar will wear an AstroRad vest to protect her from space radiation while Helga will not.

The vest can protect men too, but female forms were chosen because women typically have a greater sensitivity to space radiation.

"Scientists will be able to determine how well the new vest might protect crew from solar radiation, while also collecting data on how much radiation astronauts might experience inside Orion on a lunar mission — conditions that cannot be recreated on Earth," according to a NASA news release.

Chapman's team tested rocket components at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Mississippi, then performed a hot fire of the rocket at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

"(It was) held down by a big clamp (so it couldn't) take off," he said. "We fired all the engines and ran them 8 minutes and 39 seconds."

That amount of time is how long the core stage will be with the spacecraft before the two separate after the launch.

His team ranged from 30 to 200 people depending on what phase of the test was occurring. It included experts such as electrical, mechanical and computer software engineers.

"There were quite a few things that had to be done to make this all work," he said. "Just the scale of everything is so big."

During the most intense phases, he would be in a fortified concrete command center that functioned like those in Hollywood movies.

"It's the same discipline," Chapman said. "Everybody has a chance to say it's a go or (not)."

He would look at as many as 10 computer screens for 14 hours at a time with hundreds of numbers that could add up to success or failure. Some displays would change as frequently as every second, showing things such as if valves were ready, if they were in the right position and if they were moving at the right speed.

"You're always looking, trying to analyze all that data," Chapman said. "You're looking at tolerance parameters. Are you getting a temperature that's not quite right? ... You got a sensor. Is it telling you the truth?"

Once Artemis I reaches outer space, he said, he expects to feel a sense of pride.

"When you see all the people who put their heart and soul into it, it's nice to see the payback," Chapman said. "That's the thing about this occupation. There's not a lot of immediate gratification. You've got to wait until it happens."

The path that took Chapman to the extraordinary height in his career started during his childhood. His parents ran a farm and ranch.

One of his first hobbies as a boy was launching model rockets. He was fascinated by how quickly they flew and constantly found ways to build them so they would go higher and higher.

"I ended up losing a few," he said. "I had 60 acres to deal with."

When he was a little older, his father brought home a Radio Shack computer. It didn't have any games on it, so Chapman created simple ones to play like Hangman and Pong.

That interest prompted a guidance counselor to suggest that Chapman study computer science, what was then an emerging field.

Chapman took the advice and landed a job with Boeing after graduating from the University of Idaho. He had three long-term overseas assignments, two in England and one in France.

The opportunity to work on Artemis I grew out of a conversation with two executives who mentioned that one of his colleagues was doing rocket work in Florida.

Chapman called his acquaintance and found out he needed help.

"I was in Florida for two years," he said. "You just pack up and go. You've got to be willing to do that."

Now that his part in Artemis I is finished, Chapman's pace of life is slower. He retired a year ago and lives with his wife, Jackie Chapman, in Orofino, a place that, in some ways, is how he remembers it.

"It still has the same feeling in terms of the people, the work ethic," Tim Chapman said. "It still has that same backbone."

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.