Artemis project also aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon
By Kiran N. Kumar
NASA has finally launched its next-generation rocket into space as part of its ambitious Artemis I Moon mission after years of delays and billions of dollars spent.
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Nov 15 and sent the Orion spacecraft on its way to Moon’s orbit, where it will orbit for several days before returning to the Earth on Dec 11.
NASA tweeted: “We are going. For the first time, the @NASA_SLS rocket and @NASA_Orion fly together. #Artemis I begins a new chapter in human lunar exploration”.
Read: Moon’s origin: Earth’s signature gas discovered in lunaites (August 13, 2022)
Ironic though! NASA had sent Apollo moon missions 50 years ago to the moon, where the first humans landed and returned. This time, NASA has opted for an uncrewed mission to be followed by a crewed mission to orbit but not to land.
Finally, the third mission would be the first crewed Moon landing mission since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. So, Artemis is designed to pick up where its Greek-namesake twin, Apollo, left off.
Incidentally, Apollo was a god, Artemis a goddess in Greek mythology and the sequel is planned by NASA to explore more of the Moon than ever before.
The Artemis project is also poised to accomplish landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon, building a lunar base camp, constructing a spaceship in lunar orbit, connecting an off-world internet among others.
The pertinent question for many remains why NASA, despite its historic Apollo 11 mission that set Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s footsteps on the glowing orb with Michael Collins waiting patiently in the Command Module, took more than 50 years to return to the moon afresh.
Overall the Apollo program returned 842 pounds (382 kg) of lunar rocks and soil to Earth that helped to assess the lunar surface, but funding constraints and Apollo 13’s failure to land and barely return almost stalled the ambitious lunar program.
Not any more!
Artemis I has all the science equipment, such as satellites, radiation detectors, human stand-ins, freeze-dried yeast for biology experiments and miscellaneous data collection tools, meant for any initial exploratory mission to the moon.
The humanlike mannequins strapped inside Orion are meant to react to dangerous radiation absorption in space travel for study once they return.
With cameras installed, Orion is also expected to capture earthrise, similar to the images taken by the Apollo 8 mission, the first crewed voyage to the moon’s orbit in 1968. “We’re going to try and catch the Earthrise,” Rick LaBrode, lead flight director at Johnson Space Center, said excitedly. “That’s a spectacular image.”
If Artemis II and III missions work out, US will have the first human base on the moon in the form of Lunar Gateway, a small space station resembling the International Space Station (ISS) that orbits lunar and serves as a solar-powered communication hub, science laboratory, habitation module for astronauts, holding center for rovers or robots and other equipment.
“Gateway’s capabilities for supporting sustained exploration and research in deep space include docking ports for a variety of visiting spacecraft, space for crew to live and work, and on-board science investigations to study heliophysics, human health, and life sciences, among other areas,” NASA said.
Read: Artemis and Apollo: How NASA’s SLS Moon Rocket Stacks Up to Saturn V (September 1, 2022)
Then, NASA also plans a LunaNet, a navigation network on the moon similar to GPS on earth for astronaut safety, providing NASA location data in distress or as contingencies arise. And of course, lunar terrain vehicles, or LTVs, are also planned for the future.
Nathan Howard, project manager for the LTV at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said, “Most people do a lot of research before buying a car. We’re doing extensive research for a modern space vehicle that will be provided by industry. As we plan for long-term exploration of the Moon, the LTV won’t be your grandfather’s Moon Buggy used during the Apollo missions.”
That explains the unusual delay of 50 years to return to the moon. But the Artemis I tagline — “We’re going” — resonates with strong determination.