The Launch of Artemis
By Joseph Gillin
Excitement has been growing for the launch of Artemis I at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, scheduled for Monday morning, August 29 at 8:33 AM (though don’t be surprised if weather or technical issues cause delays). This launch (uncrewed) is a test flight of some of the hardware that will return humans to the Moon within a few years.
After several fits and starts over the decades and several administrations since the Apollo program implemented the goal of Pres. JFK for the US to land astronauts on the Moon within a decade, the Artemis program was approved by Pres. Trump and championed by VP Mike Pence and NASA Admin. Jim Bridenstine (a former GOP Rep. from Oklahoma). This is one Trump initiative that Pres. Biden has allowed to proceed.
The massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket was actually mandated years earlier by an act of Congress. It is controversial even within the space community because of its high cost and lengthy delays. (The political history of the SLS is described at https://tinyurl.com/bddphbrm). Because of its high cost, the SLS will likely be gracefully retired in a few years as commercial heavy lift rockets come on line. The SpaceX Starship vehicle is already contracted to be the system that will take the astronauts from lunar orbit down to the surface and back on the first human landing mission.
Controversy or not, this week’s launch is generating excitement and national pride. Hotels in central Florida are booked and local officials are planning for traffic gridlock.
Most residents of Maryland don’t realize how much of a role this state plays in the space industry. The Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes, along with other Earth and space science missions, were developed and are operated out of Maryland centers. One thing that Sen. Barbara Mikulski got right was recognizing that, in proportion to population, Maryland is as much of a leading space state as Florida, Texas, California, etc. (GOP candidates and elected officials, take note!) Thousands of Maryland residents work at various government, industry, and academic facilities involved in space. The growing NASA and commercial activities at the Wallops Island spaceport near Chincoteague, VA have a positive economic impact on the Maryland eastern shore. Families will even have more frequent opportunities to combine viewing a space launch up close with an Ocean City vacation!
So, even if I’m not in Florida this week, I’ll figuratively hang a note that says “Out to Launch”. If the Artemis I launch hasn’t already occurred by the time you read this article, you can watch it live at https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive.
Joseph Gillin is former Party Secretary of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee, a former Lockheed associate and long time advocate for manned space exploration.