It’s not exactly the most ringing endorsement of NASA.

The head of the space agency warned Sunday that a test flight of the unmanned moon rocket Artemis I might not go according to plan as NASA readied for its launch Monday.

“You can expect in a test flight that everything is not going to go as you expect it to. That’s part of a test flight,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson insisted to NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“That’s part of, for example, developing aircraft. That’s why you have a test pilot,’’ he said.

“But we’re pretty confident about this,” Nelson added.

Nelson explained that during a test launch "everything is not going to go as you expect it to."
Nelson explained that during a test launch “everything is not going to go as you expect it to.”
AP Photo/John Raoux

Nelson’s comments come at a crucial juncture for the space agency. If the moon rocket is successful during its six-week flight into lunar orbit, it could lead to astronauts returning to the moon in a few years.

“This time we’re going back, we’re going to live there, we’re going to learn there,’’ he said of men on the moon.

“We’re going to develop new technologies, all of this so we can go to Mars with humans.”
Nelson said the goal is to develop ways to live on other worlds.

“They may be floating worlds, they may be the surface of Mars,” Nelson said. “But this is just part of our push outward, our quest to explore, to find out what’s out there in this universe.”

The Artemis 3 Orion crew module that could be used to eventually land on the moon if the Artemis I is successful.
The Artemis 3 Orion crew module that could be used to eventually land on the moon if the Artemis I is successful.
Photo by Pat Benic/UPI/Shutterstock

Three test dummies will be strapped in for the Artemis I mission, which NASA is forging ahead with the take-off Monday despite a series of lightning strikes at the launch pad.

“This first flight is a test. We test it, we stress it,” Nelson told host Chuck Todd. “We make this rocket and the spacecraft do things that we would never do with a human crew.

“The main purpose of the flight is to test the heat shield because you can’t test that in a lab. So if the heat shield survives and does what it is expected to do, it’s a successful test.”

Meanwhile, Nelson, a former US senator from Florida, insisted that despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “inexcusable” invasion of Ukraine, NASA’s cooperation with Russia at the International Space Station “doesn’t miss a beat,” including with continued crew exchanges.

“Despite the horrors that are going on in Ukraine, the professionalism, the relationship between the astronauts and the cosmonauts on board the International Space Station, as well as our two mission controls, one in Houston, one in Moscow, it doesn’t miss a beat,” Nelson said.

Weighing in on NASA’s race with China to the south pole of the moon, Nelson added that he doesn’t want the Chinese to arrive first and then claim the territory belongs only to them.

“That’s what I’ve said all along, that we’re in a space race. And we want to get to the south pole of the moon where the resources are, where we think water is,” Nelson said.

“If there’s water, there’s rocket fuel. And we don’t want China suddenly getting there and saying, ‘This is our exclusive territory.’ ”

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