Perhaps the most important decision is that NASA will not be doing the Apollo-type of sorties that hopscotched around the moon. Instead, the agency will select …
In a matter of weeks, NASA will make its first trip back to the Moon in half a century with the launch of the ARTEMIS 1 mission. Spacecraft will be launched, a lunar space station will be built, and humans will return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program’s conclusion when astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt stepped foot on the lunar soil.
Space Launch System
The Space Launch System, a 32-story rocket carrying the Orion space capsule, will make its maiden voyage with the Artemis 1 launch. Small spacecraft will be deployed from the capsule as it flies within 62 miles of the Moon’s surface to conduct scientific studies there and beyond. Orion can take humans further than any spacecraft before; therefore, even though this initial voyage will be uncrewed, others with astronauts will follow in the coming years.
The historic Artemis 1 mission has several goals, including exploration. However, its primary functions are as a showcase of technology and a symbol.
All of us who have looked up at the Moon and imagined walking on its surface one day will see that day come true. At a press conference held online in early August, NASA administrator Bill Nelson remarked, “That voyage, our adventure, begins with Artemis 1.”
Assuming all goes well with the October launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the flyby of the Moon, and Orion’s reentry and splashdown off the coast of San Diego, Artemis 2 will be launched. In 2024, four astronauts are scheduled to do a flyby of the Moon during the first crewed mission. Then in 2025 or 2026, Artemis 3 will make the first lunar landing since 1972, and a woman will be among its participants. In 2027, the I-HAB module, which will serve as the primary living quarters for crews aboard the Lunar Gateway station in lunar orbit, will be delivered by astronauts aboard Artemis 4.
Artemis is a costly program that has been in development since 2017 and has so far burned almost $40 billion. As part of NASA’s larger push to emphasize human space flight, its major goal will be to create a permanent presence on the Moon as a space station and a lunar base camp or outpost. A NASA official remarked last week, “We are beginning a long-term journey of science and exploration.” This was said by Bhavya Lal. Both robots and humans have done preliminary exploration; now, we are gaining the knowledge necessary to extend our stay on the Moon and eventually travel to Mars and beyond.
NASA’s long-term “Moon to Mars” mission
Artemis is part of NASA’s long-term “Moon to Mars” mission, which aims to deliver humans to Mars within the next two decades. Gateway robotics and dwelling modules for personnel, together with a lunar rover, are all projects that could be forerunners of future Mars-bound technologies. Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace are working on next-generation spacesuits that will have enhanced life support, communication systems, and more freedom of movement.
Assuming that the initial Artemis flights are a success, additional components will be sent to the moon station on following excursions, and astronauts will be deployed for lengthier excursions on the lunar soil, maybe for several weeks at a time. As NASA continues doing these missions, they will become increasingly difficult. This will also lead to costing more on the project forefront.
Even though there won’t be any real passengers on board Artemis 1, the capsule will bring along three lifelike dummies. The masculine one, which was used for Orion vibration tests, was given the name Commander Moonikin Campos due to a public contest for naming characters.
During the flight, he will be accompanied by two female mannequin torsos constructed out of materials that accurately represent an adult woman’s bones, soft tissues, and organs. Because extended exposure to radiation in space might harm astronauts’ health, every single one will be outfitted with radiation detection instruments. (The European Space Agency, which is working with NASA on the mission and contributing a Shaun the Sheep doll to it, will send it along.)
A total of ten CubeSats, each about the size of a shoebox, will be sent into space as part of the project. Some will map the Moon’s surface and investigate its icy craters, while others will test a radiation shield in space or travel to other locations, such as a nearby asteroid.
The Artemis project will also function as a test bed for technologies created through public-private collaborations. NASA has previously cooperated with Terran Orbital and Rocket Lab to launch a small spacecraft known as Capstone, which is now scouting the eventual orbit of the Lunar Gateway. Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colorado, will provide Gateway’s power and propulsion, while Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia, is working on the HALO module, a small location where the first Gateway astronauts will reside and perform research. Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s most powerful rocket, will carry both into orbit in late 2024.
Foreign relations and cooperation between nations and space agencies can flourish due to these massive undertakings. The European Space Agency (ESA) is one of NASA’s many international partners on Artemis, delivering the service module for Orion on Artemis 1 and contributing to Gateway’s I-HAB. The Japanese space agency is working on a cargo supply spacecraft for Gateway and exploring the idea of a pressurized moon rover, which would allow people to remove their cumbersome spacesuits while exploring the lunar surface. The Canadian Space Agency is currently developing a robotic arm for the ISS. The United States initiative to create best practices for future international exploration of the Moon, the Artemis Accords, has been endorsed by 21 countries.
There’s a lot of science to be done on the moon
But an ambitious plan like a moon landing isn’t certain to win over the public. First of all, it’s quite exorbitant. Former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver is just one of many who have voiced concern about the rising price tag of the space agency’s Space Launch System, especially in light of SpaceX’s work on the cheaper Super Heavy rocket and the reusable Starship spaceship.
Furthermore, political interests in space may vary over the course of multiple administrations, putting at risk any plans that span multiple administrations. Sometimes a program won’t survive a power transfer at the White House. Previous US presidents Bush and Trump (who launched Artemis) were more interested in sending humans to the Moon than Obama was, who was more interested in sending humans to Mars. Artemis has been around for several different presidents, which is promising. Teasel Muir-Harmony, a space historian and curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, says, “But there are still a lot of unknowns, and it’s a significant expenditure.”
Public sentiment can evolve. At first, many citizens of the United States were against the massive investment in the Apollo program made by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. This amount, as a percentage of GDP, surpasses current spending on Artemis. After the 1969 moon landing, however, that all altered forever.
While competition with the USSR prompted the Apollo program, today, it is not so much China, Russia, or even private space businesses that motivate funding for lunar exploration. Recent surveys show increasing public support for NASA’s climate studies and efforts to detect asteroids that could be on a crash course with Earth.
While much has changed since the 1960s and ’70s, Muir-Harmony adds, the impact of the Apollo program still weighs big. To begin with, there’s the name: In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo. She further claims that NASA officials have argued that Artemis should expand upon Apollo’s successes by doing more than just leaving “flags and footprints” on the lunar surface. “Its presence is felt today.
When you look at the rationale behind Artemis, when we talk about Artemis, it’s an integral part of that conversation,” she says. “I think it helps to develop excitement. There’s a revival of that sense of purpose. There’s some nostalgia for that, some understanding that Apollo pulled a lot of people together and concentrated them on a really demanding goal, and in doing so it challenged the best of our abilities.”