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Damage caused by Starship’s first launch could delay NASA’s Artemis III mission

Published Apr 24th, 2023 4:41PM EDT
spacex starship inaugural launch reveal
Image: Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP

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Elon Musk may consider the destruction of Starship midway through its flight into orbit a success, but the first launch of SpaceX’s next-generation rocket left more than just a field of destruction and a damaged launch pad in its wake.

If you haven’t been keeping up with NASA and SpaceX’s ongoing space flight efforts, then you might not be aware that NASA is planning to use Starship — the biggest rocket ever made — as a landing vessel for the Artemis moon missions.

While the SLS rocket has proven successful for the Artemis I mission and will act as the rocket that delivers Artemis III to lunar orbit, it isn’t designed to land on the lunar surface. Instead, NASA plans to use Starship to deliver astronauts to the lunar surface. After the damage Starship inflicted last week after its successful liftoff, though, Artemis III could face a bit of a delay. Though NASA also has secondary options in the works.

Of course, it’s weird to talk of delays when NASA hasn’t even given Artemis III a final launch date. However, we know that the space agency was shooting to launch that iconic mission sometime in 2025. With the damage left behind Starship’s first launch, though, it could take SpaceX months to set up another test.

Those months could also tick into Artemis III’s launch, which is somewhat disappointing. However, Artemis III is a huge mission, and its iconic goals will mean a lot to the future of space exploration as a whole. Also, Starship itself is a big part of SpaceX’s plans for sending humans to other planets.

So while Starship’s damage to the launchpad could lead to months of repairs, it is hard not to look at the progress made during this first launch attempt and see some success. That success, while not complete, still marks progress toward the end goal, at least for NASA, which is acting as a landing vessel on the Moon itself.

Starship’s damage to the launchpad also tells SpaceX something else. It tells the company how to better prepare for the powerful boosters lifting the rocket into flight. Hopefully, the engineers working on the repairs can find a way to turn that destruction away from the launchpad so that it doesn’t leave such a mess behind it next time.

Editor’s note: Article updated 4/28 to clarify Starship’s usage by NASA during Artemis III.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.