On a cold night in early December 2017, I met two industry sources at a southeast Houston restaurant called Newbie. Located all the way from Johnson Space Center, Nobi serves Vietnamese food and an amazing selection of beers on tap. Share with us.
These figures in the space industry are not well known outside of business, but they are very knowledgeable and adept observers of spaceflight. And perhaps most important to me as a reporter, they have been particularly candid about this place.
They were in town for a space conference, so we chatted and chatted and chatted with the store. Deep in our cups, speculation has turned toward NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. When I asked, do you really think the big rocket would launch?
One such source responded with a surprising prediction. “Maybe around 2023,” he said.
At the time, NASA was planning to launch the rocket for 2019, just two years later. The machine was about to expire. So predicting six years of work left seemed pretty out of the box. But I was somewhat drunk, and what about Twitter if not a little kibbitzing? So I grabbed my phone and tweeted his prediction:
An unbiased industry source announced tonight that the first launch of the SLS will likely come around 2023.
– Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) December 5, 2017
The prediction did not receive much attention at the time, and was largely dismissed as a bad joke. But over the years, in certain small corners of the web, this tweet has become an internet legend, a wild prediction that may come true.
It also angered supporters of NASA’s massive rocket. In 2020, the tweet was discovered by subreddit r/SpaceLaunchSystem, and some readers were completely outraged. User “insane_gravy” wrote, “Eric Berger proves once again that anyone can be a ‘journalist’ in space because there are no standards.” Well, I hope he’s crazy truly He loves gravy because the Space Launch System rocket and Artemis I mission are now scheduled to launch on Wednesday, just eight days before Thanksgiving.
However, the source has been proven correct. Given that we’re less than two months into the new year, it’s already “around” 2023. Moreover, the 2023 fiscal year started five weeks ago.
Three years later, in October 2020, this same source made another statement so wild that I decided to tweet about it again. This prediction relates to NASA’s forthcoming decision for a contractor to build a “human landing system” to take astronauts to the Moon as part of the Artemis program.
At the time, SpaceX, a “national team” led by Blue Origin, and a third presenter led by Dynetics were vying for one or two NASA contracts. Conventional thinking in the aerospace industry has been that Blue Origin would win the base contract because it led a team of new and traditional airlines and proposed a design built to NASA specifications. It was thought that perhaps Dynetics or SpaceX would get a secondary contract.
Far from proposing a conventional lunar lander, SpaceX wanted to use the massive Starship as a lunar lander. This option was discounted somewhat by the space industry because Starship was a risky experimental approach. There were also concerns that if NASA chose SpaceX, it would put the Starship on the critical path of the Artemis Moon program. This meant that in order for the Artemis program to succeed, the Starship had to work. And if the Starship succeeds, that means NASA has funded a better rocket than the consumable and expensive Space Launch System rocket.
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