Idaho State geologist helping NASA prep for 2025 crewed moon mission
POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI) – An Idaho State University professor is helping to coach the next team of astronauts to visit the moon.
Currently, Shannon Kobs Nawotniak, associate professor of geosciences, is serving as a member of NASA’s Joint EVA Test Team (JETT) 3. The JETT 3 Team is responsible for preparing the astronauts to conduct the experiments that are planned for the Artemis III mission through simulated missions on Earth. Planning to launch in 2025, Artemis III is slated to be the first crewed moon landing since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
"During the Apollo missions, astronauts were almost all test pilots. Only one geologist was ever sent to the moon, even though most of the research that was done is related to geology,” Kob Nawotniak said. “The Artemis astronauts will include geologists, biologists, and other scientists, and we are figuring out how to support them from Earth. There will be a lot riding on their shoulders, and they will need active help from Mission Control to do good science while they're up there."
The experience has also led to her working side-by-side with a former student, Angela Garcia. Garcia earned a master’s degree in geology from Idaho State and now works for NASA as an exploration geoscientist, making tests like JETT 3 possible. Garcia works daily to integrate science into human spaceflight to prepare for Artemis missions that will explore the Moon.
“It was a true privilege to work alongside Shannon on the JETT 3 science team,” Garcia said. “As my former advisor, Shannon taught and exemplified how to foster healthy relationships with colleagues and how to be a leader and follower. These lessons have been vital in my career, and I am so thankful to have had a role model like Shannon cheering me on every step of the way.”
“It's incredibly exciting to be part of the team that's setting the stage for humans to return to the Moon,” Nawotniak said. “It's been doubly wonderful to work on this project because I get to work with Angela again and see how she's taken problems that we wrestled with when she was a graduate student at ISU and taken their solutions to a whole new level.”
The JETT 3 Team has been working with astronauts at sites around the nation to help better prepare the astronauts for their time on the lunar surface. Recently, Kobs Nawotniak spent time in Arizona helping with a moonwalking test mission.
“We've been doing a lot of preparatory work on this for years here in Idaho, including at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, and I'm thrilled to see that work getting incorporated into the JETT 3 architecture and beyond," Nawotniak said.
Nawotniak’s work on JETT 3 marks the latest time she’s worked with NASA. Previously, she was the Deputy Principal Investigator for the Biologic Analog Science Associated with Lava Terrains project, Geology Co-Lead for Field Investigations to Enable Solar system Science and Exploration project, and a co-investigator on the Systematic Underwater Biogeochemical Science and Exploration Analog. She’s also had a number of research projects funded by NASA grants.
“Space exploration has always been fascinating to me, but it never occurred to me growing up that I would someday actually be working with NASA to make it happen,” Nawotniak said. “Maybe someday I'll be cool enough for it to all seem normal, but I've been working with NASA for close to a decade now and I haven't gotten there yet.”