NASA official: Artemis will make great strides, name first crew in 2023

NASA's Orion capsule is drawn to the well deck of the USS Portland after it splashed down December 11 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. following a successful uncrewed Artemis I moon mission. Pool photo by Mario Tama/UPI
1 of 6 | NASA's Orion capsule is drawn to the well deck of the USS Portland after it splashed down December 11 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico. following a successful uncrewed Artemis I moon mission. Pool photo by Mario Tama/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The highly anticipated launch of NASA's Artemis I mission late last year grabbed headlines around the world as the United States prepared to return humans to the moon again after held a decade.

Astrophiles watching the Artemis program have high expectations for NASA, even though the space agency has faced criticism for the program's delays and rising budget.


Last May, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that the space agency has to be "brutally realistic" about some slow progress in the program while addressing a budget request from the administration of President Joe Biden that seek $24.8 billion for NASA.

In November 2021, NASA's Office of the Inspector General released a report estimating that the Artemis program would cost nearly $93 billion through 2025, with the first four flights estimated to cost around $4.1 billion each.

Still, Amit Kshatriya, NASA's assistant deputy associate administrator for exploration systems, told UPI that managers expect to achieve many milestones in the Artemis program during 2023, including preparation for Artemis II mission and naming the crew.


Kshatriya said that although the Artemis II mission is not expected to be launched until at least 2024, the space agency will conduct significant work toward space exploration throughout next year, including testing the Orion capsule and analyzing data from the Artemis I mission.

"When people ask if I'm sad that we're not going to fly for another couple of years, I say we don't think about the schedule. We think about the safety of the spacecraft," Kshatriya said.

"The [Artemis II] flight itself is going to be amazing. All the work we're going to do over the next 1 1/2 to two years is going to make sure of that."

Kshatriya noted that Artemis "is not just these flights" and is generally about sustainable lunar exploration.

"So, there's a handful of other activities that other parts of the agency and our partners will contribute to," Kshatriya said.

Kshatriya said that every component that was flown in the Artemis I mission "will be essentially the same" for future Artemis missions, with a couple of exceptions.

"The Orion spacecraft will have an augmented life support and other human-machine interface systems that are installed, so will be validating those for the mission," Kshatriya said.


"The launch vehicle itself will be almost exactly the same in terms of the configuration, but of course, we'll need another set of hardware."

Kshatriya said that the best way to think of the Artemis I and Artemis II missions is as a pair of flights, the first to test the Space Launch System, or SLS, to ensure its safe to fly, and the second to integrate the crew into it.

He said that the Orion spacecraft, which returned to Earth after completing the 26-day Artemis I mission Dec. 11, was transported back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Now, NASA will conduct a detailed analysis of the vehicle -- in particular the heat shield, which Kshatriya described as the most important element that the space program. Most important, it needs to ensure retained its integrity after re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

"There will be a series of engineering analyses," Kshatriya said.

"Separately," he said, "we will be doing the post-flight analysis reviews for all the major systems that were used in the mission, such as the launch vehicle -- the core stage, the boosters, the upper stage, as well as the performance of the pad systems."

Kshatriya said that preliminary data from the mission showed that the launch vehicle "actually did a really good job of inserting Orion into the right orbit."


"I think it missed the target by 3 miles out of the 970-mile insertion target, so really really close to right down the middle," he said. "As for the rest of the performance, we didn't see anything that jumped out on Orion."

Kshatriya said that those analyses will take the Artemis team "several months to pour over" because the launch vehicle and spacecraft had a great deal of instrumentation.

In parallel with those reviews, NASA will process a second set of hardware, the crew module and service module for the Artemis II mission throughout 2023.

"We're going to begin the integration work at essentially the factory for Orion. There are actually three spacecraft in-flow there right now. The Artemis II vehicle, III and IV are in various states of assembly," Kshatriya said.

He added that the core stage and the rest of the launch vehicle for the Artemis II mission will start to arrive via water at Kennedy Space Center in the summer on barges.

Kshatriya said that, for the Artemis II mission, there are processes NASA will have to do differently from Artemis I, including adding "unique interfaces for the crew," such as systems that allow them to exit the spacecraft rapidly if needed.


Such additions are underway, and Kshatriya said those are expected to be completed by the end of this year.

However, Kshatriya said that several pre-launch milestones that needed to be completed before the launch of the Artemis I mission are no longer required -- such as testing the entire core stage, which was conducted at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

"We did an eight-minute, all-engine hot fire of the stage. We were trying to validate and qualify the design, but we won't be doing that for Artemis II," he said.

Kshatriya said that space enthusiasts who follow NASA's progress with Artemis will be very excited when the space agency names the crew, which he expects to occur early this year.

"When we name a crew, those crew's stories and the human element they provide to the program and the world will excite a lot of people. I think that's going to be a big deal for the public as they follow, along with the engineering side of it," Kshatriya said.

In the meantime, Kshatriya encouraged the public to follow along with NASA's advancements in robotics in 2023 -- which he said will play critical roles in the future of the Artemis program.


"The difference between Artemis and Apollo and other programs is that we're going for a sustainable presence on the surface of the moon to learn to live sustainably outside of Earth's influence, and we're not just going to learn that by flying Orion," he said.

"We're going to learn that by robotic exploration, as well. What you're going to see in 2023 is the agency's investment in some of these robotic explorers, landers and rovers, that we've done through a different program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services."

Kshatriya said that the primary objective of those missions will be to determine the composition of the lunar surface as NASA prepares for a sustainable human environment on the moon.

"We don't know a lot about the presence of water on the surface, and we're counting on those missions to confirm our understanding of the presence of water that we can use for sustainable exploration," he said.

"We had a similar robotic exploration that we just launched a few months before Artemis I called Capstone. It was a cube set launched on a commercial vehicle that has basically inserted itself into the same lunar orbit that we're going to use for the Gateway."


The Gateway is the name of the lunar base NASA expects to build on the moon's surface. Kshatriya said that the Capstone mission is helping the space agency validate its understanding of the moon's gravitational field "and other quirks."

As part of another mission in 2023, NASA will land and bring home material from an asteroid through the Osiris Rex mission -- which will also by corollary help scientists understand what resources might be on the moon and what might not be there.

The Osiris Rex mission was launched in September 2016 and is expected to return on Sept. 24.

"So, all our missions blend together for our overarching goal, the expansion of knowledge, because we're going to need to need every piece of data from every instrument we can to [inform our decision]," Kshatriya said.

He added that advancements by companies such as SpaceX will also aid the Artemis program over the course of 2023.

"The Artemis I was our validation can we fly the system at all. Artemis II is can we fly with crew. Artemis III will validate the first SpaceX human landing system as well as the first of our new spacesuits," Kshatriya said.

"Those developments are ongoing. I expect to see big developments from SpaceX, which will be in parallel to what we're doing. So all those pieces of the program start coming together."


SpaceX, and controversial CEO Elon Musk, have faced concerns about their ability to deliver a lunar landing system. Axiom Space has been tapped to develop the spacesuits for the Artemis III mission.

Kshatriya also highlighted some of the economic impacts of NASA's Moon to Mars program, which is not just limited to the Artemis I and Artemis II missions.

"I get paid to worry. That's pretty much all I do. But what I think about more than anything, I was overcome by this before Artemis I, but thinking about the number of people and American families and even across the pond, our allies, there was a huge European contribution to our mission, as well.

"In every state of the country, there are companies working on Artemis. It really does transcend some of the normal discourse we see day-to-day. I think that's a testament to what we value as a society, and is such a positive reinforcing message of what we can do together."

According to the space agency, the Moon to Mars program provided more than 93,700 "good-paying" jobs nationwide in 2021 and generated more than $20 billion in economic output.

"There are businesses that have been resurrected because of the program," Kshatriya said.


"Bringing manufacturing and high precision assembly back domestically has a huge corollary benefit to the economy also, and we do think about that as a matter of policy."

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