How Artemis 1 fits into NASA’s grand vision for space exploration : NPR


The Artemis 1 lunar rocket at Launch Pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center.

Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images

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Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images

The Artemis 1 lunar rocket at Launch Pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center.

Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images

NASA’s Artemis I spacecraft was due to head for the Moon earlier this week. But after suffering a technical error, it had to be rescheduled for Saturday afternoon.

Nearly 50 years have passed since Apollo last landed, and the landscape of space exploration has changed dramatically since then. An obvious update? This ship has no crew (yet). NASA hopes that subsequent Artemis missions will eventually bring humans back to the moon.

Mission efficiency, costs and motivations were questioned prior to launch. Lori Garver was the deputy administrator of NASA during the Obama administration and joined All things Considered to shed light on the process and the future of humans in space.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

On the purpose of the mission

Within the space community, it’s something they’ve wanted to do since they left the moon. And I think one of the reasons we haven’t answered is because we haven’t answered this question [of why they took such a long hiatus]. Today NASA says it’s because we’re in a race against China, but of course we’ve won that race six times. So I think the space program is incredibly valuable and the things that we’re doing have helped humanity tremendously. Going back to the moon is, I think, a positive path, but I don’t think we have a clear purpose for spending the amounts of money that are now needed.

On the impact of private space exploration companies

Private space companies are indeed part of this mission. Of course, they were also part of Apollo. Space X has a contract with them to build the lunar lander, but they’re also building a large launch vehicle that could get us there for a fraction of the cost of planned government-owned and operated systems that took over a decade and years to complete. tens of billions of dollars. So it’s not a choice.

On the delayed launch of Artemis 1 and other challenges

Well, it’s not just this latest setback that’s a problem. It’s emblematic of why a program that was supposed to take five years has now taken nearly 12. And that was supposed to cost $20 billion, has cost $43 billion. This is something that I cannot understand how the public and their elected representatives will continue to support once there is a private sector option.

What else should NASA devote resources to?

I think NASA could get back to the moon with far fewer resources in a way that drives technology, which really comes back to the nation and the planet. The money they save for this could be spent on priorities such as increasing earth science programs, studying greenhouse gas emissions from space, helping us manage our resources on this planet. NASA can contribute to a better world in many ways, here on Earth and beyond.

On how space exploration benefits humans on Earth

We believe they are inspiring and allow people to invest in themselves and go into areas that help us all. I think there’s also direct feedback ultimately, and things like the ability to detect incoming asteroids. You don’t need humans in space to do this. But that’s prospecting. And ultimately, we have to leave this planet to survive in the longer term. In my opinion, it’s a multi-generational business and we have to figure out how to last long enough on this planet to get to a point where we can grow beyond that permanently.

On whether NASA struggled to keep up

Well, I wrote a book, Escape from gravity which just came out on this. I think, you know, nobody’s bad. It’s just the status quo in Washington. Entrepreneurs already have jobs, they will argue to keep those jobs, their members of Congress want them to keep those jobs. And it just becomes kind of a redesign when, in my opinion, we weren’t set up – we’re NASA – to do the same thing again. We are supposed to drive the technologies. And that’s why I think a lot of us are critical of this rocket program, because it’s really 1970s technology, and that’s not how we think it’s best to go back to the moon .

On the desire to go to Mars

I think within NASA and some of these private companies, Mars is the ultimate goal. I think you don’t have to go to the Moon before you get to Mars, but it’s definitely useful and a place where you can relearn how to operate remotely from that planet. I think the goal of going to Mars for a lot of people is more exciting, but it’s an order of magnitude more difficult.

This story was adapted for the web by Manuela Lopez Restrepo.


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