Artemis I: Space experts tell us why NASA's mission will make history

'The Moon, Mars, and beyond are all destinations.'
Chris Young
Neil deGrasse Tyson (left), NASA's SLS (center), and Avi Loeb (right).
Neil deGrasse Tyson (left), NASA's SLS (center), and Avi Loeb (right).

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The launch of NASA's most powerful rocket to date, the Space Launch System (SLS), is just around the corner.

If the August 29 launch goes ahead, it will be the beginning of the space agency's series of Artemis missions, a key part of its plans to establish a permanent lunar presence and eventually send astronauts to Mars.

But Artemis I has been years in the making. It has faced numerous delays, and the program has been criticized equally for going over budget as well as for utilizing non-reusable technology in an era of technology geared toward sustainability.

Still, it’s hard not to get caught up in the romance of NASA’s latest rocket launch. Case in point: so many people clamored to buy launch event tickets earlier this month that NASA’s website crashed. More than 100,000 visitors are expected to make their way to Florida's Space Coast for the launch.

And the scientific community shares their excitement, albeit with the odd word of caution thrown in. We reached out to some of our favorite people in the space and science community to hear their thoughts on Artemis I. Here’s what they had to say.

Avi Loeb

“The NASA Artemis program provides an exciting rejuvenation of human visits to the Moon. This will be the first stepping stone for establishing scientific and commercial enterprises on a celestial object far away from Earth. Once successful, humanity can move on to Mars and beyond, eliminating the risk of a single-location catastrophe that will wipe out everything we care about.”

Professor Abraham (Avi) Loeb is the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University. In 2018, he famously suggested the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua may be an alien spacecraft. Loeb has written eight books and he breaks down his 'Oumuamua theory in his latest, ‘Extraterrestrial.'

Neil deGrasse Tyson

"I’m still awaiting the day when the entire solar system becomes a backyard, and we're no longer having conversations about the choice of one destination versus another — and in what sequence. The Moon, Mars, and beyond are all destinations."

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a celebrated astrophysicist and science communicator. He is the acting director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of the weekly podcast Startalk, and he has published several books, including 2017’s ‘Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

Lori Garver

"It has been more than 50 years since humans walked on the Moon, so NASA launching a rocket that could allow that to happen again is an important step to achieving that goal again. Artemis I has a goal to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon and if successful, would be inspirational to those of us who were not represented by the original twelve U.S. astronauts to land on the Moon. If we are able to develop the program in a way that delivers real scientific and economic benefits, it will leave a lasting, positive legacy."

Lori Garver is a former NASA Deputy Administrator, serving under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013. In her new book, ‘Escaping Gravity,’ she outlines the role she played in NASA’s transition toward new private sector solutions.

Pete Paceley

“Navigating humans to the moon and back more than 50 years ago was an incredible moment for the engineers and scientists at Draper. And that legacy continues as we return to the moon and beyond with Artemis I as proud members of NASA’s team.”

Pete Paceley is Draper's principal director of civil and commercial space systems. Draper was the first private company to secure a contract for Apollo II in the 1960s. Now, it is responsible for key guidance and navigation software for Artemis I.

Eric Berger

“I am incredibly happy for the people at NASA and the space companies that have worked hard, cut through the bureaucracy, managed thousands of requirements, and actually got this rocket built. And I'm eager to see it fly. But it remains difficult to celebrate a rocket that, in many ways, is responsible for a lost decade of US space exploration.

The financial costs of the program have been enormous. Between the rocket, its ground systems, and the Orion spacecraft launching on top of the stack, NASA has spent tens of billions of dollars. But I would argue that the opportunity costs are higher. For a decade, Congress pushed NASA's exploration focus toward an Apollo-like program, with a massive launch vehicle that is utterly expended, using 1970s technology in its engines, tanks, and boosters.

Effectively, NASA was told to look backward when this country's vibrant commercial space industry was ready to push toward sustainable spaceflight by building big rockets and landing them—or storing propellant in space or building reusable tugs to go back and forth between the Earth and Moon.”

Eric Berger is the senior space editor at Ars Technica. He also wrote the book ‘Liftoff,’ chronicling the rise of SpaceX, from its humble beginnings to its role as a major player in the space industry.

Jonathan McDowell

"Although there are no astronauts aboard this test launch, this marks the real beginning of a switch in US human space exploration back to deep space - the moon and beyond - after decades pottering around in Earth orbit with the Shuttle and the Space Station. It is also a critical test of whether the years of delays and redesigns - and the 50 billion dollars NASA has spent on getting to this point - have actually resulted in a flyable vehicle. So there is a lot riding on this launch."

Jonathan McDowell is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and group leader at the Chandra X-ray Center Science Data Systems (SDS). He also chronicles the history of astronautics in his weekly blog, ‘Jonathan’s Space Report.’

Mike Kincaid

“It’s been over 50 years since a rocket this powerful has left our planet to travel around the Moon. While my parents were the Apollo generation, the students in today’s classrooms are the Artemis Generation; our future space exploration rests in their hands. At NASA, we’re excited that the whole world joins us in this historic launch and I can’t wait to see how it inspires the Artemis generation around the globe.”

Mike Kincaid is acting Associate Administrator for NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement. In his role, he organizes and encourages the involvement of students in the realization of NASA's many missions related to operations in space and on Earth.

Honorary mention: Bill Nye

"Our LightSail 1 and LightSail 2 spacecraft have advanced solar sail technology, features of which are being incorporated in upcoming NASA CubeSat missions. It's gratifying."

Though Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye (also known as “Bill Nye the Science Guy”) wasn’t available to comment due to a busy schedule, he indirectly referred to Artemis I's NEA Scout CubeSat mission, deploying on Artemis I, in a February interview with IE. We've included a quote from that interview.

We have reached out to more experts in the field and will update the article if and when we hear back.

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