The scientific presence at San Diego Comic-Con continues to grow every year, thanks in large part to NASA. Their 2022 panel “Artemis: Dawn of a New Space Age” shared insights about our upcoming return to the Moon. The mission’s first launch is in a few weeks! After this unmanned moonshot, crews will establish an orbiting base and perform lunar landings. The Artemis program will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon.

Maureen O’Brien moderated the panel that included astronaut Joe Acabá, Holly Ridings, NASA’s first female chief flight director, and Derek Wang, who works in NASA communications. They covered Artemis’s role in the ultimate goal of putting people on Mars and inspiring the next generation through NASA’s graphic novel First Woman. They were also asked about their pop culture inspirations. Spider-Man for Acabá, who has spent more than 300 days in space and enjoyed climbing the walls of the ISS. Riding’s favorite superhero is Thor. And Wang watched E.T. and made sure he didn’t grow up to be like those government bad guys. Ridings and Wang joined Nerdist for a quick chat after the panel.

Nerdist: Why is it important for NASA to be at Comic-Con?

Holly Ridings: This is my first Comic-Con experience, so super excited. You hear about it and you know there’s a bunch of excited people who like science. Science fiction counts. I think NASA overall, and me personally, we’re really trying to communicate what we’re doing with as large an audience as possible. We want every single person, ideally in the world, to be able to talk about human space flight and NASA’s missions. So this is a way to reach a lot of people that you know are going to be interested and maybe wouldn’t necessarily have had an opportunity to meet someone from NASA.

Derek Wang: This is a very interested audience and they are always excited. I’ve heard so many good things about having a NASA booth or having NASA speakers at these events and the great engagement in the interactions that we have. And I had to experience it for myself, and it’s been great.

NASA panelists at San Diego Comic-Con: Maureen O'Brien, Holly Ridings, Joe Acaba, and Derek Wang
Melissa T. Miller

How do you see NASA’s role in the feedback loop between science and science fiction, where real-life technology inspires fiction, which in turn inspires more advanced technology?

HR: I was talking to someone about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There’s all those episodes where they’re using the space station platform for humans to travel for research, to figure out the next step forward into the universe or solar system. I do feel like there’s so much momentum and we’re right at the cusp of really tapping into the vision that science fiction gives you. Our technology has almost advanced to the point where we’re meeting that science fiction. And that makes it accessible in so many people’s minds. Because it’s what they saw in movies and grew up with.

DW: We talk about science fiction as science reality now. And we actually have programs that help some of the cool far out scientific research that maybe one day will help human exploration. I think we are harnessing all the energy in the creativity around the science fiction community. A lot of the things that they are reading in books or in comics, those are things that people are actually trying to develop. So if we can innovate and then expand those technologies, we can explore even further.

What are your thoughts on space exploration in pop culture?

HR: If you watch any movie, say Gravity or Moonfall, there are elements that represent things that we actually do. Some of them are not entirely accurate, but you do see yourself in that. Take The Martian as an example, there’s elements of how you work together as a team. What I look for in those movies is the teamwork. Coming from human space flight operations, that really resonates with me. Some of the technical details? Occasionally a healthy dose of skepticism is required. That’s okay. That makes it fun.

DW: What’s kind of neat too is, in our communications office, when we are a part of the story and a part of the movie. In that development, the technical aspects continue to get a lot more real because we’re helping. So I think that’s kind of neat, where Hollywood is actually coming to us, or books are coming to us like, “How do we tell the story more accurately so that it’s beyond science fiction to where it’s a science reality?”

Artemis launches in late August or early September 2022. There will be a mannequin onboard, though NASA has dubbed it a “Moonikin.” It’s named after Arturo Campos, a NASA engineer who worked on the Apollo and space shuttle programs.

 Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.