KISSIMMEE, Fla. – NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told a lunchroom full of students at Ventura Elementary School in Kissimmee that they could go to the moon on NASA’s next rocket heading that way – the Space Launch System (SLS), also known as the Artemis moon mega-rocket – when it launches from the Space Coast… eventually.
The SLS is several years and billions of dollars behind schedule. But, speaking with News 6 after the school visit, Nelson maintained his position that the SLS will not be rushed.
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“We are not going to fly until it’s safe,” Nelson “And you can just nail that down. That’s on all spacecraft. That’s why we’ve had delays that we’ve had.”
The former astronaut and U.S. Senator said he was disappointed by the Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) of the SLS ending early; mission managers weren’t able to fully fuel the moon rocket because of leaks and a sticky helium valve.
“Am I disappointed about any delay, of course,” Nelson said. “But remember I got a lot of practice in this. Our [Space Shuttle] crew has the record for the most scrubs.”
But Nelson believes the SLS will fly its first test flight in August, after NASA said last week in a matter of days it found and fixed all of the problems that plagued the Wet Dress Rehearsal and will be ready to roll SLS back to the launchpad for another WDR as soon as late May.
“I think we will launch the SLS with the spacecraft Orion on the top, Artemis 1, I think we will fly that in August,” Nelson said. “Then about two years later we’ll send our first crew to the Moon.”
SpaceX’s mega-rocket, the Starship, meanwhile is likely just months away from its orbital test flight for a fraction of the development cost.
“SpaceX’s Starship being so close to heading to orbit, and with SLS being so far behind, is NASA feeling the pressure?” von Ancken asked Nelson.
“Not at all,” Nelson said. “What’s happening is they’re a partner. They haven’t flown yet. We haven’t flown an SLS yet. But the SLS is going to the moon. The first Starship is just going to do a 3/4 orbit of the earth.”
Astronaut Matt Dominick, alongside Nelson, spoke to students and answered questions, attempting to inspire them to become astroanuts themselves.
Dominick may get to fly on the SLS one day.
Nelson flew on the 24th flight of the Space Shuttle in 1986.
While in Congress as a U.S. Senator, Nelson was a staunch supporter of the SLS, which was funded through “Cost-Plus” contracting – paying contractors like Lockheed and Boeing the cost to build plus extra fees – one of main reasons SLS development costs have ballooned billions of dollars over budget.
“[Former] Senator Nelson, you talked about cost-plus last week [on Capitol Hill to the Appropriations Committee],” von Ancken said to Nelson. “I have to say, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard an administrator at NASA say no more cost-plus. Is this the new way of doing business? Is it going to change things?”
“I sent a signal to the aerospace industry that the days of Uncle Sam paying the tab and continuing to run up that tab are over,” Nelson answered. “The American people will not stand federal programs that go completely haywire.”
Nelson also said the cost of an SLS launch, estimated to be as much as $2 billion each, largely because no part of the rocket is re-usable, will come down eventually.
“Over time it will but remember there’s a lot of development costs that are figured in,” Nelson said.
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