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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Among the stars: NASA awards contract to East Gainesville engineering firm

Graphic of space

An East Gainesville firm could play a role in American astronauts’ return to the moon. 

NASA awarded Jones Edmunds & Associates Inc. a five-year civil engineering contract in mid-September. The East Gainesville firm, along with two others in Orlando and Viera, will provide architectural-engineer services for the NASA Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman to the moon by 2024 — more than five decades after the first moon landing. 

With a partnership that spans 28 years, this is the fifth time Jones Edmunds will collaborate with the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The new contract allows the Gainesville firm to provide services to NASA nationwide, firm vice president Terri Lowery said. 

It also awards $150 million for space-related engineering projects, she added. Projects intended for the Artemis program include utilities infrastructure, site planning, transportation engineering, and stormwater and solid waste management. 

Space innovation is only one of the firm’s initiatives, Lowery said. Located on Waldo Road, the firm has spearheaded multiple projects in East Gainesville. The firm’s engineers helped design the Duval Stormwater Park, restore Sweetwater Wetlands Park and upgrade road safety for traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists of the northeast. 

“It’s pretty exciting to see what our team has done over the years at the facility,” Lowery said. “It is a testament to the hard work and the service that our technical team provides to NASA.” 

The contract is also a financial boost for the firm, which supports more than 130 employees, Lowery said. Many of them are Gainesville residents. 

Jamie Bell is one of these employees. As an engineer and North Duckpond resident, she gets to be a part of space innovation 10 minutes from her quaint neighborhood. 

Bell will be working with an infrastructure team to create a wastewater master plan and redesign Kennedy Space Center’s Crawlerway, the roadway used to move rockets to the launch pad, for the Artemis project. 

“Believe it or not, there’s actually space-related work going on in East Gainesville,” Bell said. “It’s also really interesting to see how the space industry is growing again because it did kind of take a dip for a little while.”  

The Obama administration approved the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which turned to private companies to send astronauts into space, while NASA focused on creating larger rockets to travel further distances. The act canceled the Constellation Program, a NASA mission geared to send astronauts to the moon, in favor of commercial flights to the International Space Station. 

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Gregory Harland, a Kennedy Space Center spokesperson, desires to push the boundaries of space exploration even further. With the Artemis program, Harland and his colleagues have their eyes set on the moon — and even Mars. 

“I can only imagine what the Apollo era folks were thinking. I could only imagine what the space shuttle era folks were thinking,” Harland said. “We are at the very beginning of this new pioneering spirit, taking a deep breath in the universe.”

NASA hasn’t sent an astronaut into space from U.S soil in nine years until flights resumed this summer through a partnership with SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company. 

NASA’s mission has evolved to lead the development of a commercial space industry, Harland said. He notes that its multi-user spaceport, which was initially built for the Apollo Mission, has converted from a strictly governmental facility to a blended government and commercial facility. 

Laura Rochester, director of procurement at the Kennedy Space Center, hopes NASA’s endeavors would inspire children to pursue math and science. With more space innovation, more commercial technology will be created, she added. 

Rochester looks forward to space innovation’s comeback.   

“When we’re on TV launching astronauts to the space station and then watching them safely splash back down, it brings everyone together,” she said.    

Rochester and Harland may not wear space suits but both agree steering a rocket is only one of many ways to support space exploration — even from East Gainesville.

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