Napoleon once said that he did not care if his generals were any good, but rather, whether they were lucky. Todd May, was, and is, both. The very well regarded current director of the NASA Marshall Space Center, and “midwife” of the SLS Heavy Lift launch vehicle (HLV), has announced his retirement which will happen at the end of July.
As the SLS programme manager, May presided over the successful initial design and development of NASA’s SLS HLV, including steering it safely through its critical design review (CDR), silencing many of its detractors as he did so. Of course, by being successful, May, a materials scientist by training, was subsequently promoted to Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Center, NASA’s main launch vehicle development centre located in Huntsville, Alabama. Nevertheless, even as he got promoted, May kept his southern charm and common touch.
May appeared to have taken his luck with him as SLS then appeared to hit some turbulence after he left the project. This included the discovery of twisted a launch tower, suspect SLS software and damage to a tank welding machine. Nevertheless, the SLS Block I rocket continues to progress and is now certain to fly.
For while NASA might have been wiser to choose the simpler shuttle-based Sidemount design over the SLS, and although later SLS variants may now be usurped by newer larger commercial HLVs the SpaceX BFR and the Blue Origin New Armstrong, nevertheless, whether an interim HLV or not, SLS is still likely to be the rocket that returns NASA astronauts to the Moon.
As such, while there were several thousand of other guys and girls involved in the design and development of the SLS, NASA still has a lot to be thankful for to one that made the birth of SLS happen – its principle midwife (colloquially known as a “Doula” in the Alabama neck of the woods): Todd May.
We at the Seradata space team wish Todd and his family a very happy retirement.