The oracle that predicted the launch of SLS in 2023 is concerned about Artemis III

The oracle that predicted the launch of SLS in 2023 is concerned about Artemis III

Enlarge / NASA’s Artemis I mission is scheduled to begin later this year. But will Artemis III also fly on the Space Launch System rocket?

Trevor Mahlman

On a chilly evening in early December 2017, I met a couple of industry sources at a restaurant in southeast Houston called Nobi. Located just down the street from Johnson Space Center, Nobi serves Vietnamese cuisine and has an amazing selection of beers on tap. We attended.

These space industry figures are not well known outside of the industry, but they are very informed and astute observers of space travel. And perhaps most importantly for me as a reporter, they were extra open in that environment.

They were in town for a space conference, so we clapped and chatted and talked shop. Deep in our cups, speculation revolved around NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. When, I asked, do you really think the big rocket will start?

One of those sources responded with a surprising prediction. “Probably around 2023,” he said.

At the time, NASA planned a launch date for the rocket in 2019, just two years from now. The hardware was almost ready. So a prediction of six years of work left seemed pretty out of left field. But I was slightly drunk, and what is Twitter for if not a little kibbitz? So I grabbed my phone and tweeted his prediction:

The prediction didn’t draw too much attention at the time and was largely dismissed as a bad joke. But over the years, that tweet has become something of an internet legend in some small corners of the internet, a wild prediction that could come true.

It has also fueled the anger of supporters of NASA’s big rocket. In 2020, the subreddit r/SpaceLaunchSystem spotted the tweet, and some readers were downright angry. User insane_gravy wrote, “Eric Berger proves once again that anyone can be a space journalist because there are no standards.” Well, I hope insane_gravy Yes, really likes gravy because the Space Launch System rocket and its Artemis I mission are now scheduled to launch on Wednesday, just eight days before Thanksgiving.

However improbable it may be, the source has been proven correct. Since we’re less than two months away from the new year, it’s already “about” 2023. Also, fiscal year 2023 started five weeks ago.

A second prediction

Three years later, in October 2020, the same source made another statement that was so wild I decided to tweet about it again. The prediction concerned NASA’s upcoming decision on a contractor to build a “human landing system” to take its astronauts to the moon as part of the Artemis program.

At the time, SpaceX, a Blue Origin-led National Team, and a third bidder led by Dynetics were competing for a NASA contract or two. The conventional thinking in the space industry was that Blue Origin would win the main contract because it led a team of new and traditional aerospace companies and proposed a design tailored to NASA specifications. It was thought that maybe Dynetics or SpaceX would get a second deal.

Far from proposing a conventional lunar lander, SpaceX wanted to use its massive Starship vehicle as a lunar lander. This option was somewhat discounted by the space industry as Starship was an experimental, risky approach. There were also concerns that NASA’s selection of SpaceX would put Starship on the critical path for the Artemis Moon Program. That meant Starship had to work for the Artemis program to be successful. And if Starship worked, that would mean NASA had funded a rocket that was better than their own expendable and expensive Space Launch System rocket.

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