Although the Apollo lunar mission is completed, the Moon still continues to fascinate NASA and other space scientists globally. Since the time first humans landed on the Moon about half a century ago, NASA has continued to push limits of human knowledge, to fulfill the promise of American leadership and ingenuity in space.
NASA is implementing the President’s Space Policy Directive by leading an innovative and long-term mission with its international and commercial partners to explore the Moon for scientific discoveries, and economic advantages, and inspire future generations. The program is termed Artemis.
THE ARTEMIS PROGRAM
In Greek mythology, Artemis, Apollo’s twin sister and Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt, inspired the Artemis program. A part of this program, which started during the Trump administration, includes efforts to send another crewed mission to the Moon. The plan is to send the first woman to walk on the surface of the Moon. The program also intends to put a person of color on the Moon’s surface for the first time. In 2019, President Trump directed NASA to land Americans on the lunar surface in 2024, cutting away four years from NASA’s initial 2028 goal.
As the Artemis program progresses, NASA is getting ready to land the next Americans on the Moon for more exploration. “This is an exciting time for NASA, particularly for the Artemis team,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for HLS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, stated. “During the Apollo mission, we demonstrated that the seemingly impossible task of landing humans on the Moon can be accomplished. By using a collective approach in working with industry and harnessing NASA’s established technological experience and skills, we will return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface once more, but this time, to explore new areas for longer periods.”
ACHIEVING THE PLANNED HUMAN MISSION
To achieve the above mission, NASA has granted SpaceX the Human Landing System (HLS) contract to continue building the first commercial human lander to safely transport the next two American astronauts to and from the lunar surface. SpaceX has been working closely with NASA professionals during the HLS base performance period to inform its lander design and guarantee it meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards. These agreed-upon standards are critical, covering engineering, safety, health, medical, and technical areas.
The backbone of NASA for deep space exploration is based on:
- The biggest rocket ever built.
- “Space Launch System (SLS).”
- The Orion spacecraft.
- The Gateway lunar command module.
In collaboration with its partners, NASA will use the Gateway lunar command module orbiting the Moon as a staging location to allow astronauts to study more portions of the lunar surface than ever before.
NASA chose SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft, which relies on the company’s proven Raptor engines and flight history of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. A roomy cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks are included in the Starship. The architecture intends to develop a fully reusable launch and landing system for missions to the Moon, Mars, and other planets. A version of SpaceX’s Starship is currently undergoing testing at a facility in southern Texas. It will be the vehicle transporting astronauts to the lunar surface on that mission.
Four astronauts will be launched into lunar orbit aboard the Orion spacecraft using NASA’s powerful Space Launch System rocket (SLS rocket).
After that, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for their final trip to the Moon’s surface. After spending about seven days exploring the Moon’s surface, they will board the lander back to orbit, where they would return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.
One of two astronauts will be the first woman to walk on the Moon, giving NASA a total of 14 people [the first woman and the 13th man] to be sent to the lunar space.
The procedure for the human mission includes the following:
The Orion spacecraft’s uncrewed test mission, Artemis I, will launch in February 2022. NASA will launch the Orion spacecraft on the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket without any humans aboard. It will fly around the MoonMoon on a three-week trip to test its systems.
“In 2024, the first flight with astronauts, named ‘Artemis 2,’ will take place. It will also voyage around the Moon,” Nelson said.
Since Apollo 17 in 1972, Artemis 3 will be the first mission to return to the Moon’s surface. The spacecraft will land at the lunar South Pole, where large amounts of water-ice are estimated to be stored in craters that never see sunlight.
The firm-fixed-price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion.
“With this award, NASA and its partners will complete the first crewed demonstration trip to the Moon’s surface in the 21st century, as part of the agency’s commitment to long-term deep space exploration and gender equality,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate.
In other news, the 2024 target is not going to happen.
While NASA’s Artemis program has been working toward landing humans on the Moon by 2024, the already aggressive target was recently made more challenging. The agency faced technical difficulties and delays due to the coronavirus outbreak and a lawsuit filed by Blue Origin, which halted the development of the landing technology that would be used for the first crewed touchdown. However, during a press conference on November 9th, 2021, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson formally confirmed the agency’s revised lunar deadline.
“We aim to return humans to the Moon as soon as possible and in a safe manner, creating a long-term human presence on and around the lunar surface. But 2024 was not a goal that was technically feasible, so we are now estimating no earlier than 2025.” Nelson remarked.
“We’re dedicated to pushing the limits of what we think is feasible.” NASA’s Artemis program will transform science fiction into reality. We will make discoveries and enhance technologies so that we [and our partners] can bring new knowledge and possibilities to the next generation of scientists, engineers, explorers, and other STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] professionals,” he adds.
As these works, innovations, and advancements progress, it will provide the foundation to test technologies and resources that will eventually propel us onward to Mars. As the “torchbearer,” the Artemis program will pave the way for human exploration of Mars and other deep-space destinations, including building sustainable, reusable architecture.