Why NASA wants to return to the Moon after so many years

It’s a milestone in a formidable plan to launch new spacecraft, assemble a lunar space station, and bring humans back to the Moon for the first time since the end of the Apollo program, when astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were the last to set foot on the dusty regolith moon.

Artemis 1 will mark the inaugural launch of a 32-story rocket called the Space Launch System, topped by the Orion space capsule.

The capsule will fly within 62 miles of the lunar surface while deploying small spacecraft for research on and beyond the moon.

While this first flight will be unmanned, others with astronauts will follow in the years to come, and Orion is capable of carrying humans further than any spacecraft has flown before.

Although the important Artemis 1 mission includes some research objectives, it serves as both a technology demonstration and a symbol. “For all of us who gaze at the moon dreaming of the day humanity returns to the lunar surface, we are coming back. This journey, our journey, begins with Artemis 1,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said during a a virtual press conference in early August.

The Artemis 1 launch period begins at the end of August, the NASA schedule will be from the morning of August 29, and the backup dates will be September 2 and 5.

If liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the moon flyby, reentry and crash of Orion off San Diego in October go as planned, the Artemis 2 will continue.

On a video of NASA – in English – is a good illustration of this decision.

During this first manned mission in 2024, four astronauts will perform a lunar flyby. Next is Artemis 3 in 2025 or 2026, the first moon landing since 1972, which will include the first woman to set foot on the moon.

Astronauts aboard Artemis 4 in 2027 will deliver the I-HAB module, which will become the main crew quarters aboard the Lunar Gateway station in its orbit around the moon.

The Artemis program has been running since 2017 and has cost around $40 billion so far.

Its main purpose will be to establish a sustained presence on the Moon in the form of a space station and lunar camp or colony, as part of NASA’s larger effort to prioritize human space travel.

“We are beginning a long journey of science and exploration,” Bhavya Lal, associate administrator at NASA, said at last week’s press conference. “We did our initial reconnaissance with robots and humans, and now we’re learning what we need to know so we can spend more time on the Moon and then prepare to go to Mars and beyond.”

Indeed, Artemis is part of NASA’s long-term “Moon to Mars” program, as the space agency plans to send astronauts to the Red Planet within 20 years.

“Everything we do on the lunar surface, we do to explore science, and we’re not just going to put up ‘flags and footprints’ as some call it. [Apollo]but also to test the systems that we will eventually need to reduce the risks of a human mission to Mars, ”explains Cathy Koerner, deputy associate administrator at NASA, based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Blog at NASA they sum up the Artemis project this way

“We will return to the Moon for scientific discoveries, economic benefits and inspiration for a new generation of explorers: the Artemis generation. By maintaining American leadership in exploration, we will build a global alliance and explore deep space for the benefit of all.

This includes the development of Gateway robotics and crew habitat modules, as well as a lunar rover, all of which could be precursors to future technologies on Mars.

The next-generation spacesuits, to be developed by Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace, will include improved communication and life support systems and allow for additional mobility.

Assuming the first Artemis missions are successful, on later trips more components will be sent to the lunar station and astronauts will be sent for long walks on the lunar soil, possibly for weeks.

“As we carry out these missions, they become more and more complex. And so the infrastructure to support them becomes more and more complex,” says Koerner.

Although no passengers are traveling on Artemis 1, the capsule will carry three mannequins. The male, dubbed Commander Moonikin Campos through a public naming contest, was used for Orion’s vibration testing.

It will fly alongside two female mannequin torsos, made from materials that mimic the bones, soft tissues and organs of an adult woman. All will be equipped with sensors to detect space radiation, as prolonged exposure can harm astronauts’ health. (The European Space Agency, which is collaborating with NASA on the flight, is sending a Shaun the Sheep doll.)

The mission will also deploy 10 shoebox-sized spacecraft called CubeSats, some of which will map the moon’s surface and study its ice pockets, while others will test a space radiation shield or go further afield. , like an asteroid close to the earth.

The Artemis project will also serve as a test bed for technologies developed through public-private partnerships.

NASA has previously worked with Terran Orbital and Rocket Lab to launch a small spacecraft known as Capstone, which is currently exploring Lunar Gateway’s future orbit. Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colorado, will provide power and propulsion for the Gateway, while Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia, is working on the HALO module, a small area where the Gateway’s first astronauts will live and conduct research. SpaceX will launch both on a Falcon Heavy rocket in late 2024.

Large programs also create opportunities for global diplomacy and relationships with space agencies. NASA is working with many international partners on Artemis, with the European Space Agency providing the Orion Service Module on Artemis 1 and collaborating on the Gateway I-HAB.

The Japanese space agency is developing a cargo supply spacecraft for Gateway and is studying the concept of a pressurized lunar rover, inside which astronauts could take off their large space suits.

The Canadian Space Agency is designing a robotic arm for the station. A total of 21 countries have also signed the Artemis Accords, the US government’s attempt to establish best practices for future international exploration of the Moon.

What public opinion thinks of Project Artemis on returning to the Moon

However, a project as ambitious as the return to the Moon is not always a politically winning sign, in fact it is very expensive.

Some critics, such as former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, have drawn attention to the agency’s growing cost of building its own space launch system – at a time when SpaceX is developing the Super Heavy rocket. cheaper, as well as the reusable Starship spacecraft.

And programs that span many presidential administrations with different spatial priorities can be vulnerable to shifting political winds. Sometimes a program does not survive a power transition in the White House.

Former US Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump – who launched the Artemis program – have favored lunar missions, while former President Barack Obama has focused on launching humans to Mars.

“Artemis has been through several presidential administrations, so that bodes well. But there are still a lot of unknowns and it’s a big investment,” says Teasel Muir-Harmony, space historian and curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Public opinion can also change, Muir-Harmony points out. Many Americans were initially opposed to the former Kennedy and Johnson administrations’ massive investment in the Apollo program — which today exceeds funding for Artemis as a fraction of the country’s gross domestic product. But that all changed after the historic moon landing in 1969.

The space race with the former Soviet Union also boosted the Apollo program, but today potential competition from China, Russia or even private space companies is not driving investment in exploration lunar in the same way.

Recent research shows more public support NASA climate research and monitoring efforts for asteroids that may be on a collision course with Earth. (One of the goals of the Artemis program will be to share off-planet images with the public to inspire new generations, such as the iconic Earthrise photo taken by astronaut Bill Anders on Apollo 8 in 1968.)

When asked to rate the importance of these missions, most Americans say one of NASA’s top priorities should be monitoring “hot spots” like Earth’s climate system. (63%) or watch for asteroids and other objects that could collide with Earth (62%).

Just under half of Americans (47%) believes that conducting basic scientific research to increase knowledge and understanding of space should be a priority, with 40% saying such research is an important but lower priority. About 41% say that the development of technologies that can be adapted for uses other than space exploration should be a top priority, and 44% characterize as an important but minor priority for NASA. AND 38% believe that NASA should prioritize conducting scientific research into how space travel affects human health, while 41% consider this an important but minor priority.

While a lot has changed since the 1960s and 1970s, says Muir-Harmony, the legacy of the Apollo program is still great.

It starts with the name itself: in Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo. And NASA officials have argued that Artemis should go beyond “flags and footprints” – in other words, it should build on Apollo’s accomplishments.

“His presence is felt today. When you look at the logic behind Artemis, when we talk about Artemis, that’s an essential part of that conversation,” she says. “I think it helps build excitement.

There is a revival of that sense of purpose. There’s a certain nostalgia for that, a certain recognition that Apollo brought a lot of people together and focused them on a really difficult goal, and in doing so tested the best of our abilities.

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