“In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.” - John F. Kennedy
For the American people of 1961, John F. Kennedy’s words were purely metaphorical, but for the people of 2022, these infamous words may quite literally become true. After 50 years of major space exploration “dry spell”, following the final launch of the Apollo missions, NASA is gearing up for their next ‘space revolution’: the Artemis missions.
Artemis I will be the first of many launches, acting as a test launch to a series of human-piloted missions, aiming to “land the first woman and first person of color on the moon”. The uncrewed flight will test the limits of the Space Launch System and the Orion Spacecraft around the moon in preparation for the construction of a base camp on the moon’s surface and a gateway in lunar orbit - with the hopes of becoming a future space station for further expeditions to mars. Yes, mars!
However, among the excitement and dazzling festivities of NASA’s Artemis home page, the phrase “We will collaborate with commercial and international partners and establish the first long-term presence on the moon” sticks out, pointing out many economic burdens the mission carries.
Although the Artemis will be the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built with a whopping 15% more thrust than the Apollo missions, and if launched, the most powerful rocket to ever exist, there have been many concerns about project spending. For starters: It’s way over budget. Originally expected to cost taxpayers $10 billion, it is now exceeding $20 billion…and that’s just for the rocket. The cost of developing Orion and other components of the Artemis program comes to an estimated $93 billion by 2025 with the expected cost per rocket launch to be around 3 times what was originally expected. Rather than building an engine from scratch, budget restrictions have brought the space shuttle’s Aerojet Rocketdyne engines back into use, with the CPU being used the same as the G3 Macintosh Powerbook Circa 1998. Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s shiny SpaceX starship project is not only expected to be more powerful, but will also have a higher payload capacity and reusable first-stage boosters for around $10 billion, or less.
The term ‘Government Largesse’ comes to mind. Unlike most private entities, the government isn’t spending money to receive profit. Instead, money is spent for political interest as much as national interest. While the government has the liberty of continuously, endlessly funding projects with taxpayers’ money, private entities are more careful with their spending to maximize profit - and are often more successful and economically efficient, like SpaceX.
Several members of Congress have vocalized their concerns about NASA’s growing spending budget. But the issue has struck a specifically strong chord with environmentalists who claim the money should be put to better use. Although many appreciate NASA’s significant progress in biological and humanitarian aid by establishing a presence within the Earth’s orbit (military, GPS, the CO2 model, etc…), they argue that the billions of dollars being spent on space exploration should be reallocated to saving the planet we already have. Instead, NASA keeps plowing forward with a series of expeditions - spending, polluting - which they hope will be the first of hundreds (maybe thousands) to follow. Maybe they should be doing more to offset their emissions and waste - they do after all have some of the best scientists the world has to offer.
On the other hand, there’s a certain luxury to unlimited spending in times of crisis. The point remains - NASA spends for the national interest - so, why exactly are we going to space? The Economist has titled the Artemis as the latest advancement in a new Space Race with China.
The original Space Race emerged from the nuclear arms race that categorized the Cold War, beginning around 1957 after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit. It was a race to the moon - a victory effectively claimed by the USA with the landing of astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the moon.
A few decades later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Space Race came to a definite end with the launch of the International Space Station: An international hub for shared research, advancements, and exploration. Nicknamed ‘humanity’s home’ in space, it’s a symbol of unity and collaboration. But recent tensions have compromised this ‘haven’ with the revival of the space race.
A government report expressed how “Winning the New Space Race is a national imperative and a critical component of the preservation of liberty and prosperity in the 21st century for the United States, our allies, and partners. The rise of China as both an economic and space power is an imminent threat to democracy, the free market economy, and the international liberal order.” Xi Jinping’s “Space Dream” is part of an effort to displace the US as the dominant space power both militarily and economically by 2045. In such cases, government largesse becomes less a choice and more a necessity in order to maintain both a nuclear and territorial equilibrium.
Although other arms races may prove to become yet another money pit with no determinable end, an established presence in space may provide new, unimaginable scientific outlooks. Furthermore, the establishment of ‘new horizons’ in space may present new economic opportunities in the far future: supporting job growth, furthering the demand for a skilled workforce, fueling new industries, and enabling the birth of a lunar economy.
There’s no denying - the Artemis launch will be a historic milestone in Space Exploration, whether part of an arms race, research program, or space colonization, going deeper into space than the Apollo ever did (280,000 miles from earth). Like the Apollo did four decades ago, it has already sparked a whirlpool of excitement, and inspired all generations alike.
Mack, E. (2022, September 1). NASA artemis I launch: 7 things you may not know about the historic Moon Mission. CNET. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.cnet.com/science/space/artemis-i-mission-7-essential-facts-about-nasas-upcoming-trip-to-the-moon/
NASA. (n.d.). Artemis. NASA. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/#why
Davenport, C. (2022, August 29). Artemis I launch scrubbed as Engine Problem Defies Fast Fix. The Washington Post. Retrieved September 1, 2022, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/08/29/artemis-launch/