NASA moon mission delays are nothing to worry about, says astronaut Chris Hadfield

As It Happens6:31NASA moon mission delays are nothing to worry about, says astronaut Chris Hadfield

Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says that, from where he’s sitting, the Artemis moon missions are coming along just fine.

NASA announced Tuesday it is delaying two upcoming missions — including the flight meant to carry the first Canadian astronaut around the moon — due to technical issues with its spacecraft that could pose a danger to the crew.

Artemis II, the first crewed mission to the moon in half a century, was scheduled to launch this November, but has been pushed to September 2025. Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen is the flight’s mission specialist.

Artemis III, which aims to send humans to the lunar south pole, will be postponed from 2025 to 2026.

Hadfield, who has flown three space missions and also served as commander of the International Space Station, says these delays are a normal and expected part of space travel. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Nil Köksal. 

The safety and technical issues NASA is citing for these delays, what do they signal to you? Is this where a mission like this should be at this stage? 

It’s been 50 years or more since human beings have gone to the moon, so we really want to do it right. You’ve got to be careful. And we flew a test mission a year ago with nobody on board, and learned a lot of things there. 

It’s not an airline. It’s not like we’ve got a specific time and date that is absolutely necessary to launch. We will launch as soon as we think everything’s safe enough to have a good chance of success. 

The short answer to your question, Nil, is I think things are going along well. 

Even when we talk about the significance of some of the things they’ve highlighted? Electronics and the life support system that would keep the astronauts alive?

That’s what spaceships do, right? Every single thing that goes wrong on a spaceship is related to keeping astronauts alive. 

I commanded a space station, and things fail all the time. They fail every day. It’s just a big machine. And you try … [to] fix them before you leave Earth if you can, because that improves your chances of success. 

That’s the reason you do a test flight is to wring out problems and sort out potential failures, and then work on good solutions to launch with as healthy a ship as possible. 

If everything was perfect, I’d be suspicious. You know, I think it’s great that we’re finding problems and working on them and making the vehicle as healthy as possible to get ready to trust it with four people. 

Artemis II crew, from left to right, NASA Astronauts Christina Koch, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman, and Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Jeremy Hansen. (NASA)

If you are Jeremy Hansen and his crewmates, what do you think they’re feeling right now? Relieved or disappointed? Or maybe both, I’d guess?

Neither. It’s just a normal part of the process. 

Another six months or a year or whatever it’s going to be, it doesn’t really matter. This is time and preparation and development and mission advancement and making sure we optimize our chances.

For the crew, it’s just, “Yeah, OK. Well, fine.” There was nothing magic about that previous date on the calendar. And there’s nothing magic about this one. And there’s very little chance they’ll launch on this date either. But you have to set a date that everyone’s now working towards. 

I don’t think any of my space launches launched on time — or at least, you know, on the first date that we chose. But they all launched, and they were all successful. And it’s because of the process that they’re going through right now. 

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So if you were to put a date on it … would you even be able to do that at this stage? 

No, nobody can. It’s as simple as that. 

The countdown to launch, I know people think it starts at 10, but it starts years in advance…. And at any moment, you can have a launch hold, whether it’s 15 seconds before launch or 15 months before launch. 

It’s just a different business, I think, than most people visualize or think about. And this is as hard as it gets, sending four human beings, not 400 kilometres away like I went, but 400,000 kilometres away. So the risks are higher. The opportunities to help them in real time are lower. They can’t just deorbit and come back to Earth. 

For Jeremy and his crew, this is life as normal. And they are four great representatives of humanity. I’m super proud to know them.

[In] the previous U.S. administration, there was a sort of sense of urgency infused into getting astronauts back on the moon…. Are you concerned that that kind of urgency from U.S. leaders at that time helped move this along too quickly? 

Politicians come and go, and the electoral cycles are going to continue to happen. 

It’s always going to be complex and [involve] a lot of external factors. But you could drive yourself crazy worrying about the things that you have no control over. 

I think it’s really good for NASA and the astronauts to be focused hard on the things that they can control and make sure that they’re going to be able to do their part properly. 

[There are] those who are not as excited about space exploration as you and many others around the world, who point … to these headlines and say this should all be left to private enterprise rather than a taxpayer-funded agency. What do you say in response to that? 

There’s always a role for government. It’s why we have governments. And there’s a role for private industry, and that’s why we have private industry. 

The things that further humanity, that push back the edges of our understanding of things like the CERN particle accelerator or the SNOLAB that’s in Sudbury, or the research laboratories that are right across Canada, or the telescopes that we help build … that’s not the job of private industry, because they can’t make a profit at it. 

Exploring the moon, putting human beings on the moon, exploring the rest of the universe, understanding the very nature of dark matter and dark energy — that still takes us collectively to agree that this is something that humanity needs to work on together. And some of our domestic product needs to go towards that, as well as taking care of each other. 

So a mission like this one, Artemis, is somewhat in the middle. It’s private companies building the hardware. But it’s still governments fundamentally footing the bill. 

And it’s always been that way. That’s what exploration is. It’s always been like that. This is just the current manifestation of it.

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