NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket was scheduled to head for the moon on Monday from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, but the launch was aborted after encountering a fuel leak and subsequent engine problems.
The rocket was to lift off on a flight to propel a crew capsule into orbit around the moon. The six-week mission was to end with the capsule returning to Earth during a dive in the Pacific in October.
The 98-meter spacecraft is the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA.
During an interview with CTV News ahead of the launch attempt, Saint Mary’s University astrophysicist Rob Thacker said Artemis 1 was a “massive deal” for NASA because it’s been 50 years since the government agency did not fly a large rocket.
Thracker says NASA really wanted the launch to work – citing more than a decade of development work on the rocket’s space launch system.
“Everybody knows there’s a certain competitor called SpaceX that’s coming alongside and trying to show NASA what it can do, so there’s really a lot going on there right now. and the engineers involved are very proud of what they have achieved so far.”
Thacker also calls the Artemis program a “truly different situation” from other lunar exploration programs of the 1960s and 1970s.
“A lot of what was happening then was showing technological capability and basically national supremacy in a fun way,” he says. “Now it’s very different. We focus much more on exploration. How can humans survive long term in low gravity environments like the moon, and obviously the vacuum environment? »
Artemis 1 also has a Canadian connection. Felix & Paul, a Montreal-based virtual reality studio, has been contracted to livestream the launch to planetariums around the world, including the Discovery Center in Halifax.
Thacker adds that Canada is more involved in long-term space explorations. For example, a Canadian will be aboard the Artemis 2 mission, which is scheduled for launch in 2025.
“On top of that there’s the Lunar Gateway mission, which is literally building a space station that goes around the moon, Canadarm3 is supposed to be on that, it’s looking a little later, maybe 2026- 2028.”
Although Artemis 1 is a big deal for NASA, the program’s first and second flights do not go to the surface of the moon.
“Going down to the moon is obviously something we’ve done before, but SpaceX, Elon Musk, his team actually executed the contract to build the land there, and that creates a really interesting situation,” Thacker says. “To get the vehicle that will perform the moon landing, they have to make sure their super heavy Starship rocket actually works.”
He adds that there are a lot of questions about the future of space exploration, now that SpaceX also has big rockets, like Starship, and different ideas for a space launch system.
“Very creative ideas, I would say, but at the same time they don’t quite have the same level or engineering resources as NASA does,” Thacker says. “NASA even helped them, Elon Musk was very clear about that. They’re very, very aggressive. They (have) kind of a building, breaking prototyping.
SpaceX has discussed a Starship launch by 2023-2024.
“My personal opinion is that if SpaceX really shows they can operate this big super heavy Starship rocket, NASA will probably end up handing it over to them,” Thacker said.
The astrophysicist adds that the environmental impact of space exploration should also be discussed.
“People have done studies on, if the number of launches goes from about 100 a year that we’re seeing right now, up to a thousand a year, what kind of impact would that have? And the answer seems be quite significant.
According to Thacker, although there are thousands of planes flying around the world every day, a single rocket releases many pollutants into the atmosphere.
“I think it’s safe to say that it’s getting a lot more attention and that a number of different companies are looking carefully at what kind of emissions they have from the particular vehicles they have,” he says. . “So I think that’s something we’re going to hear a little more about over the next few months and years.”
The next Artemis 1 launch attempt will be on Friday.
With files from The Associated Press