Astronaut Details NASA’s Ambitious Artemis Program

VOA’s Kane Farabaugh spoke with NASA Astronaut Victor Glover ahead of Monday’s scheduled Artemis launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. While the launch was postponed, NASA’s quest to return to the moon and eventually send humans to Mars remains a priority for the U.S. space agency. A former military aviator, Glover has taken part in a SpaceX mission, spent time aboard the International Space Station, completed 168 days in orbit and participated in four spacewalks. He is a candidate for future Artemis missions. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VOA: “So Victor, tell me what it’s like to sort of be here right now in this moment?”

NASA ASTRONAUT VICTOR GLOVER: “It’s unreal. I mean it sounds a little cliche but to be at the place where the Apollo missions launched from all those shuttle launches happened from, and I actually launched from that next door neighbor launch pad right there just under two years ago. But it’s still surreal to be here. This is one of my favorite places on the planet, and that’s just any day of the week, but when there’s a big rocket like SLS or Orion sitting over there, it’s just the buzz here, the energy. It’s really special. And my favorite part about this is the excitement of all the NASA employees who have worked hard for years to make this happen.”

VOA: “What is that excitement like? What is it [excitement level] at right now? I mean, you weren’t born when Apollo was happening so I’m sure there’s really nothing to equate this to, is there?”

GLOVER: “Well, I mean you know, growing up and appreciating Apollo and having that being a motivational force in your life, it’s really neat to, like, stand on the precipice of maybe the next thing like that happening knowing it. We call things moonshots when humans do great things, right? And so our generation doesn’t have that, so we look back at Apollo for that inspiration. So now our generation is going to have its own moon shots. And so that’s, I think, a part of it for all of us. And I love the fact that it’s connected. The legacy of Apollo and Apollo–Soyuz and the shuttle and ISS and our partnerships with SpaceX and Boeing. People say this is a marathon not a sprint. I say it’s actually a relay race. And so those programs have all informed what we’re doing now. They’ve handed us the stick, and now it’s time for us to run our best leg. And so this is going to open the door for us to send humans to the moon. And I mean I just, it’s hard to imagine anything more exciting for people all over the world.”

VOA: “But this mission is also not just charting new paths in space, it’s also sort of crossing historic barriers in gender, race, ethnicity, culture. Can you talk about that a bit?”

GLOVER: “Well of course you know you heard the line it originally was we’re going to send the first woman and the next man to the moon. And then it became you know we’re going to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon. And I’ll say here’s what I think about that. Our office is diverse enough, we represent America. And because of that, we make our bosses’ jobs actually challenging, we make his job hard because he’s got to pick some of us and I think all of us are ready trained and capable of making this mission a success, but then I think the fact that our leadership recognizes the past and how maybe it wasn’t equitable, that we can do something about that now in the astronaut office that we have today looks like America. So it’s easy to do. But the fact that our leadership recognizes that they have a role in it as well to make sure that it happens and to support and encourage the continued dialogue about that I think is really important. So it is encouraging, and I think all people should feel supported by this effort.”

VOA: “Victor, when you sit back and you think about this, does the reality that you may be someone who charts some kind of historic milestone for humanity, is it something that seeps into your mind often while you’re going through training or while you’re talking to the media? Or while you’re doing this or does it have a special place in your mind to prepare for this?”

GLOVER: “You know, there was a lot of talk about that from my mission to ISS and I didn’t focus on that. I kept my head down and just did the work. And so but again, I do think it’s important you know, there are little kids out there that look up to us and say I want to do that. But more important is that inspiration drives decisions, right? It drives behavior. And so some little kid’s going, ‘I want to be like that and I’m going to study this and I’m going to eat my vegetables and I’m going to be a good person.’ And that to me is valuable. No matter what those kids look like, people keep asking me, is it meaningful to you that little Black kids look up to you and say they want to be like you? You know what? Let’s be honest, I represent America. I’m a naval officer and I work for NASA. I represent America and little white kids, little Mexican kids, little Hispanic kids, and little Iranian kids follow what we’re doing because this is maybe one of the most recognizable symbols in the universe. And I think that that’s really important and I take that very seriously.”

VOA: “What is the most challenging part of the job ahead for you?”

GLOVER: “The most challenging part of this job for me is the time away from my family. But you know what? I’m a member of a group that is serving the people, right? This is the people’s stuff. That rocket was built by the American people, literally. … [W]hat we do is meaningful to America and to humanity at large and so I think it’s important for us to explore space, to explore the cosmos for all people, especially now when we can do it by all people.”

VOA: “Is there anything you can do mentally to prepare for a mission to the moon? I mean, nobody in the program right now has ever been there before. There isn’t like relative experience you can go to unless you’re talking to an Apollo astronaut to help prepare you for what it’s going to be like to reach the surface of the moon. How do you get ready and how do you do this because it’s not been done in 50 years?”

GLOVER: “There’s going to be a great training program. We’ve got a great team of people that are thinking about how to train astronauts for this mission. One of the primary things all astronauts have to do though is integrate all of that and then take it into space and know how space is different than what you do on the ground. There’s going to always be that no matter where you go lower earth orbit or beyond, on the moon or on to Mars. But I think personally, I’m a little bit more of a philosophical astronaut I would say and I think it’s important for us also to recognize when you go do something like this, to not just know there are unknowns but to embrace it. You are not prepared, you’re not as prepared as you can be if you don’t expect something to catch you off guard. And so knowing that it’s going to happen, you’re going to be able to process those emotions faster and instead of going, ‘Oh my God is this really happening?’ You’re going to go, ‘Yeah God, thanks for the preparation’ and you’re going to do the next right thing. And so knowing that you’re going to a place not many human beings have been, I think is an important part of preparing for something like flying Artemis II or Artemis III to the moon.”

VOA: “Do you think the general public is invested, educated and excited about this mission as they might have been for Apollo?”

GLOVER: “[H]opefully the public is following that closely to know this is not a walk in the park. There’s a lot about this mission that could go wrong, and that’s going to help us to send people back to the moon. And so I think part of that falls on us to do that advocacy.”

VOA: “You’ll be on this stage on Monday for Artemis I broadcasting for NASA to talk about the mission from an astronaut perspective. But when this rocket goes up, Orion is on its way to the moon and nobody’s here on the stage anymore. What are you watching for as that mission progresses?”

GLOVER: “Oh, everything. How the team works together. That’s a big one. We have not flown a mission like this in complexity, in distance, and also the international component of it in a very long time, in some aspects ever. The International Space Station is very international, but having your astronauts only four or six hours away from the planet is very different than multiple day journey to the moon or back. And so how they work together and how they communicate and how they decide and act to handle problems is something that I’m going to be paying close attention to. If everything goes perfectly on this, actually that to me would not be the best case. I want us to have some challenges that we work together and overcome so that we know we can do that, but then come back. And when that heat shield hits the atmosphere going Mach 32, twenty-five thousand miles [40,000 km] an hour or seven miles [11 km] a second, we’re going to learn all that we need to know. And if we can keep the structure and the avionics and the crew inside safe, then I think we’re well on our way a couple of years from now having a crew going to the moon as well.”

VOA: “You’re a military aviator…”

GLOVER: “Yes, sir.”

VOA: “This will be automated. This is going to be more automated than any other spacecraft in history. You know, in Apollo, they had switches and knobs. Here, people on the ground will be controlling a lot of the flight maneuvers in the path of the spacecraft. As somebody who has that background, how do you feel about that automation?”

GLOVER: “[T]there are regimes of flight where we can have full manual control and there are regimes of flight where we would have a blended, some sharing between manual inputs and automation. And so there’s a scale, a range of sharing of that responsibility. And I think that that’s the state of the practice, right? The state of the art is maybe one day going to be, who knows, it’s controlled by thoughts and folks on the ground but that’s the state of the practice. And so, software has gotten much better. Hardware has gotten a whole lot better, our manufacturing capability, and so I think that’s progress. And yes, as somebody who likes to have a stick and throttle, you know, I want to go up there and do aileron rolls in the thing, but the maneuvers it’s going to do are so complicated that for me to have manual control throughout the entire regime of flight actually adds risk that that we aren’t necessarily trying to buy off on. So we want manual control where it really matters, things like docking, things like landing on the surface, and enduring entry to make sure that we have the ability to steer to a safe location to get us back down to Earth safe.”

VOA: “How do you gauge mission success for Artemis I as you’re watching this mission unfold over the next six weeks?”

GLOVER: “Yeah, it’s been a long road getting here and we have overcome some significant challenges. … It is no small thing that we still have a moon capable rocket and spacecraft through some of the changes that we’ve had in the last decade. And so the fact that we’ve overcome those things makes me the most confident in this group of people. Human hands put that together. Human hands and minds and hearts and ears and eyes are going to be watching it and working it as it goes on this 42-day journey. And so I’m confident in that team and we’ll see how the hardware and software hold up. It’s an unknown, we haven’t done this before. This will be the first time a lot of this hardware is flying, but you noticed there are some legacy out there. If you can see it in the distance, that orange tank is very similar to the shuttle main fuel tanks and those boosters are very similar to shuttle solid rocket boosters. And so there’s some heritage in our space flight hardware. But this is the first time it’s been integrated into this stack-up. And so we’re going to learn, we’re going to learn. But I have full confidence in that team.”

VOA: “Knowing where you’re at now, knowing what you might have the opportunity to do, what would you say to 12-year-old Victor Glover?”

GLOVER: “Oh wow. Oh boy. That’s a great question. Twelve-year-old Victor Glover didn’t even know if college was a reality, you know, and just, no one in my family had graduated from college, and so there’s a lot to this iceberg, and I’ll save you the long story and I’ll just answer your question. What I would say to 12-year-old me is, ‘It’s going to be OK. It’s going to be OK. You’re going to be OK, but it’s going to be OK because you’re going to work so hard.’ And so, that’s what I would say to myself. You know, this will take care of itself. Getting to this point and the amazingness of this, the awe of it all, it will take care of itself. You know, I wouldn’t spoil the surprise.”

VOA: “Victor, man or people have not landed on the moon in our lifetime. That’s about to change. Do you think we will get to Mars in our lifetime?”

GLOVER: “Oh, I think we will get to Mars in our lifetime. I said it a little while ago. This is a relay race. The journey to Mars has been 25 years away since we went to the moon back in the Apollo program. This is the first leg of the race to Mars. And so it’s been 25 years ahead of us because we haven’t started the race. When this is successful, we will have finished the first leg of that race, and we’ll be that much closer. I think it will happen in our lifetime. I think I may be too old to be on that crew, but to all those kids out there, be your best self. Listen to your mom and dad, say please and thank you and eat your vegetables and exercise, because those young kids are going to be the people that have a chance to put feet on Mars.”


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