SpaceX Plans To Land Starship On The Moon In 2023 Says NASA Administrator 

Ramish Zafar
NASA Orion snaps a photo of Earth during its return journey on December 11 2022
A remarkable view of Earth from Orion as it headed back earlier this month. Image: NASA

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After a successful splashdown of the Orion spacecraft in the Pacific Ocean, NASA Administrator and former Senator Bill Nelson shared that his agency plans to go to Mars by the end of 2030. Senator Nelson struck an upbeat tone after NASA had a great Artemis 1 mission, and the remarks were made during a post-splashdown press conference, in which he also shared details for SpaceX's Starship lunar lander. The event was attended by several agency officials, including Michael Sarafin, NASA's Artemis 1 mission manager, who shared his final thoughts on Orion's performance as it entered the Earth at breakneck speeds for a successful landing.

Orion Did Not Present Any Problems During Reentry Outlines NASA Official

Throughout its journey to the Moon and back, Orion performed better than NASA engineers had initially expected. The spacecraft's power generation, done through solar panels, generated more power than expected. As part of the mission, NASA added additional test objectives to stress the vehicle and learn more about its performance for future missions. The next Artemis mission will involve a crew, and not only will NASA use the data for the next mission, but it will also make changes to the ship.

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These changes will involve hand controllers, the life support system, and displays - all of which will enable the crew to monitor and control the spacecraft. However, the crew spacecraft will reuse several components from the ship that just landed today. These include antennas, control units and GPS receivers.

After today's landing, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson revealed that his agency plans Mars missions by the end of 2030.

The goal to going to Mars was first announced by President Obama. And it was thought at the time, that it would be about 2033. But that was a dozen years ago. And now, a more realistic goal is the end of the decade of the 2030s. But a lot of this will depend on new technologies, the ability to sustain humans for a long period of time all the way. Part of that is going to be how fast can we get to Mars with a crew. And, so, we finally broke through with the Office of Management and Budget on nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric propulsion research. I think that will be supported by the Congress. New technologies to propel us there faster. And so that is why we set a target at the end of the decade of the 2030s to go to Mars. And then we're going beyond.

Crew get ready to tow Orion at 4:43 pm eastern tine on December 11, 2022. Image: NASA

Administrator Nelson also shared crucial details about SpaceX's Starship lunar lander. This is currently the only vehicle that has been chosen by NASA to land humans on the Moon as part of the Artemis program. Commenting on Starship's progress, he revealed that:

I ask the question all the time of Jim Free, is the Starship meeting each of the benchmarks, the time schedules, and the answer comes back to me and Yes, and in some cases, exceeding. I have been down to Boca Chica. It is a sight to behold. How they are putting those Starships together and then the big booster. And their plan is that they're going to do a few test flights there. And once they have the confidence, they will bring the missions to the Cape, and until they get their permanent pad on the Cape, they will launch from the one that they are constructing right now, that is in the outer perimeter of Pad 39A. You know, you're developing a new vehicle, a new rocket. You can expect some delays, but thus far I'm told that they are on schedule.

Their plan is to do an uncrewed landing in 23, late 23, that's a year from now! And then to do the crewed landing in late 24. So slips are always possible because, it's a brand new system, but they have been quite impressive in what they have done with other systems.

NASA's Artemis 1 mission manager, Michael Sarafin, also shared the final performance of the spaceship during today's reentry and landing. He explained that:

In terms of unexpected items during reentry, I am not tracking any issues associated with the crew and service module separation, the reorientation of the spacecraft into the entry interface attitude, to get aerodynamic capture, the entire skip profile. We did have two long blackouts as I recall, they were each bout six minutes in duration. We're going to have to look at post mission data recorders after we get the capsule back to shore to see if there was anything associated with it. But early the vehicle flew the skip reentry just fine. The entry guidance system was spot on, as Howard indicated earlier, relative to the targetted landing site. We came down within eyesight of the recovery ship, and the vehicle was clean post splashdown. All of the operating bags that protect in the event that the capsule flips over, it needs to be automatically upright. All five of the bags inflated, and the vehicle was powered down successfully without any thruster leaks or hazards or anything along those lines.

The team did leave, as part of flight test objectives, leave the vehicle powered for two hours post splashdown to gather thermal soak back data; as we came through the Earth's atmosphere the vehicle saw temperatures outside of it nearing 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That soaks back into the vehicle structure, we did collect data by having an extended power up on the surface of the ocean. All of that was fine, all of the parachute deployments were fine.

NASA will now evaluate data from Orion over the next couple of months to reach final conclusions about its performance. It aims to pick the Artemis II crew early next year.

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