NASA may still be in a celebratory mood in commemorating the Apollo 11, the first space mission that landed humans on the moon, an event said to be the peak of the space race between the Soviet Union and the US. However, this commemoration has sparked the conversation of when NASA plans to do that again but it seems one man is up to the challenge.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, said in an interview last week that he believes his company’s spacecraft, Starship, could return humans to the moon’s surface sooner than everyone might expect. Despite the acknowledgement of how crazy this initiative would be, he was clear that within two years the mission could be done successfully.
“Certainly with an uncrewed vehicle I believe we could land on the moon in two years. So then maybe within a year or two of that, we could be sending a crew. I would say four years at the outside.”
Considering NASA’s well-known plans of sending a crew that includes the first female astronaut to visit the moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis program, Elon was simply putting it out there that his conservative estimate for sending people to the moon in a SpaceX vehicle is a year before, 2023.
This rising competition is despite the fact that NASA through its Administrator, Jim Bridenstine, had admitted that the program’s success would depend on SpaceX Falcon Heavy. He then later took back his words saying that Artemis will definitely use NASA’s new Space Launch System. In reiteration, Musk went also went on to say that the best way to make this a reality would be to do this all alone. “It may literally be easier to just land Starship on the moon than try to convince NASA that we can.”
Elon Musk’s statement that reveals the rivalry between the two American organisations might seem almost logical considering the very process of qualifying a new spacecraft for NASA missions alone, especially involving crew can take as long as years. And keeping in mind Musk’s bold predictions and aggressive timelines, it is possible to believe that SpaceX’s momentum in this space race is growing despite the setbacks that have occurred along the way.
Setbacks On Both Sides
SpaceX has had its own share of hurdles especially in the last few weeks with the first example of a hold-down test firing of a single-engine Starship prototype that ended up in an unfortunate ball of fire. Luckily for the company, the spacecraft did not seem seriously damaged but it certainly forced the team to subsequently delay last week’s plans of having “Starhopper” lift off the ground and hover before landing.
This comes alongside April’s misfortunes when a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft was destroyed during a test firing. This was a huge blow, not just to SpaceX but for the national space agency considering the vehicle had been in the plans to work alongside Boeing’s Starliner craft to start shuttling astronauts to the International Space Station.
The necessary investigations were done by both organisations who later revealed that the explosion was a result of a fuel leak that caused a violent chemical reaction. Elon’s plans to have the Crew Dragon its first crew this month were cut short, something that he said has been pushed to months away.
Meanwhile, NASA’s side doesn’t seem that good as Jim Bridenstine himself admitted last week that the agency will not even have an estimated cost for the 2024 Artemis program until next year. So, while the goal of taking humans back to the moon for the second time are getting more aggressive, it is pretty clear that both players here have a lot to do since their schedules are slipping. But if either of them gets to have this mission successfully, then good for them.