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Elon Musk’s immense Starship isn’t going to Mars yet, particularly after yesterday's Mk1 cryogenic test went up in smoke. But it could still be travelling somewhere out of this world in just a few years — meaning a lunar touchdown as soon as 2022.
The Starship will ultimately venture into deep space if Musk has his way. While there has been some info leaked that suggests SpaceX and NASA were trying to figure out where to land this thing on Mars, it does need a trial run somewhere slightly closer than 40 million miles away. SpaceX just became one of five companies now eligible to deliver robotic payloads to the Moon via NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program (CLPS), which will be a boost for its Artemis program.
“We anticipate opportunities to deliver a wide range of science and technology payloads to help make our vision for lunar exploration a reality and advance our goal of sending humans to explore Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
SpaceX will send payloads over to the Moon with its reusable dynamic duo of Starship and the Super Heavy rocket. While there is no guarantee that it will definitely blast off about two years from now, SpaceX is at least eligible to compete with the other 13 CLPS companies if it wants to send payloads to the Moon. It shouldn’t have a problem since it is capable of carrying an astronomical 110 tons.
It may need all that payload though, if humans are going to eventually hang out on the Moon for an extended period of time. Robots like the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will have to make the journey over there first to make sure humans will land in the best possible area. VIPER’s search for water will put us where we can access the most water ice for drinking and splitting into its hydrogen and oxygen components for breathing and fueling rockets.
The Starship Mk1 prototype appeared to be that much closer to kicking up Moon dust when it officially entered the test phase Monday, taking its first “breaths” during a pressure test at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facilities. No word yet on whether or not yesterday's smoke-filled test will delay matters, and the proto will still have to prove it can pull off uncrewed test flights 20 miles in the sky. The Starship Mk2 prototype being built by the company on the Florida Space Coast is meant to compete with the Mk1 for an overall look at which design aspects will make it to the Moon and beyond.
Lunar Starship landings are going to fulfill at least one part of Musk’s dream for humans to become an interplanetary species. Whether everyone thinks living on other planets is a great idea is up for debate.