NASA astronauts just received a tutorial on the spacecraft that can take people to the moon in a few years.
Christina Koch and some of her NASA colleagues recently visited the SpaceX facility in South Texas, where the company is building and testing prototypes for its Starship deep space transportation system. The astronauts even took a selfie with the latest iteration of Starship, SN11, which could be launched on a high altitude test flight this week.
“Common goals, shared vision. NASA astronauts learn about the SpaceX spacecraft, an element in a growing global field of deeper space exploration systems with a view to the Moon and Mars,” Koch wrote on Twitter on Tuesday (23 of March).
Those words served as the caption for the selfie, which shows Koch and fellow astronauts Michael Barratt, Matthew Dominick and Reid Wiseman standing in front of the stainless steel SN11 (“Serial Number 11”).
Starship and Super Heavy: SpaceX’s Mars Colonizing Vehicles in Pictures
Common goals, shared vision. NASA astronauts are learning about the SpaceX spacecraft, an element in a growing world field of deeper space exploration systems with a view to the Moon and Mars. pic.twitter.com/Bwv2hSqzDIMarch 23, 2021
Koch and Dominick are in the first painting of 18 astronauts that NASA selected for its Artemis Program, which aims to establish a long-term sustainable human presence on and around the Moon by the late 2020s.
Starship may end up being a big part of this endeavor. The SpaceX system is one of three private concepts which NASA is considering as the Artemis Human Landing System. The other two lunar lander ideas are being developed by Dynetics and a team led by Jeff Bezos’ space flight company Blue Origin.
SpaceX’s Starship system It consists of a 165-foot-tall (50-meter) spaceship, known as the Starship, and a giant first-stage booster called the Super Heavy. Both elements are designed to be completely and rapidly reusable, and both will be powered by SpaceX’s next-generation Raptor engine. The final Starship will have six Raptors and the final Super Heavy will have about 30, said SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.
SN11 includes only three Raptors. You won’t get to space on your next flight; SpaceX is targeting a maximum altitude of about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers).
SN11’s three immediate predecessors also performed that flight. They all did quite well, although none of the ships passed the test from start to finish. SN8 and SN9, which launched in December 2020 and February 2021, respectively, came down to Earth with too much force and crashed at the landing site. SN10 successfully landed during its flight on March 3, but was unable to hold it together, exploding into a massive fireball about eight minutes later.
These test flights will continue well beyond SN11. Musk has said that SpaceX aims to bring a prototype spacecraft to Earth orbit this year, and envisions the system to be fully operational by 2023. There is already a Starship mission tentatively scheduled to launch that year: “dearMoon,” a flight around the moon booked by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out there“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.