Dear David: I have been waiting for Elon Musk to admit that it isn’t going to be possible for him to fulfil his promise of taking tourists to the Moon by the end of 2018. But alas, no such admission has been forthcoming.
Instead, an extended feature in Popular Mechanics (PM, April 2019) pictures Elon Musk’s Starship as a super-craft to take “six to eight artists [sic.] on a trip around the moon” – although this time penciled in for ‘2023 at the earliest’. Musk’s initial promise was made in February 2017 as if competing with NASA’s announcement that the next flight around the Moon will be a crewed mission in 2019, instead of the earlier planned unmanned fly-by in 2018.
It is clear that these declarations by SpaceX and NASA are just part of a familiar PR campaign to keep alive the idea of sending people to the Moon. At the outset of 2017 I explained that neither SpaceX nor NASA were ready to fly to the Moon as they claimed because they needed to complete some very necessary technical steps to achieve a suitable level of technology and instrumentation (Nexus, 2017).
But here we are in 2019, and their space vehicles are still incapable of even delivering people to LEO, let alone sending crewed missions into deep space and returning them back home safely. This PR vision continues to feed into the public’s minds along the lines of NASA’s school of working, with an on-going stream of empty promises pushing the actual execution further and further into the future. Nevertheless, it is progress in the right direction for Musk to start talking about a Moon Base and the challenges of a ‘superhot’ re-entry. (PM, April 2019).
Although there is no mention of how Musk will deal with shielding from the dangers of space radiation, it would be unsurprising if in a couple of years the issue of radiation grows into another obstacle. This would allow them to postpone everything again. In any event it is crystal clear to experts that all these issues have to be handled in parallel.
SpaceX continues to work on a crewed vehicle for LEO. After its declaration of sending a flight to the Moon in 2019 NASA quietly admitted in May 2017 that the agency would rather continue working on an unmanned flight first, but re-scheduled that to this year. Consequently, by the end of 2018, they started pushing the proposed unmanned flight date further back to 2020.
Initial steps would be related to the development of a craft capable of flying to and from LEO, e.g. to the International Space Station (ISS). Indeed, this is slowly happening with the successful launch by SpaceX of its first unmanned spacecraft to the ISS in March 2019 (see elsewhere). After this, they will need to have their command module certified to safely carry humans and, accordingly, conduct a series of test flights to LEO with an onboard crew.
An assumption by NASA way back in 2009 was that an Orion craft could be developed initially as a vehicle for delivering crews to the ISS by 2012. That hasn’t happened either, despite the unmanned test flight of December 2014.
The latest announcement in March 2019 by the US Vice President is that the newest plan is to try to put astronauts on the Moon by 2024 (Pence, 2019). Taking into account everything that needs to be achieved for this to come to fruition, the plan will almost certainly get postponed too when the time comes.
Phil Kouts, New Zealand
(Author of a series of articles on the Moon hoax, see The Apollo Myth: A Hindrance to Human Space Exploration, 2017)
(PM, April 2019) Bobak Ferdowsi The Tourist’s Guide to Space, Popular Mechanics, vol.196, No.2, p.60-69, 2019, also 'Know before you go', Interview with Elon Musk by Ryan D’Agostino, ibid, p.70-71.
(NEXUS, 2017) P. Kouts Empty claims on Moon flights, NEXUS magazine June-July 2017, p.4. and Aulis Online.
(Pence, 2019) K. Chang The Trump Administration Wants Astronauts on Moon by 2024. But What’s the Plan?' The New York Times, 2019.