NASA plans to send astronauts back to the moon for a new kind of exploration before sending the first humans to Mars.
The Monday, August 29 launch of the unmanned Artemis I mission is just the beginning of what will hopefully be a long and fruitful history of human space travel.
Apollo 17 was the last manned lunar landing, and that happened nearly 50 years ago. The 12.5-day duration of the final Apollo mission remains the record for the longest crewed deep space voyage.
Long-term deep space missions will be conducted as part of the Artemis program, with the ultimate goal of sending humans to the lunar south pole and, later, Mars.
Reasons for NASA’s Artemis I lunar mission, 50 years after the last one
50 years after the Apollo 11 mission, why is NASA sending Artemis I to the moon?
Earlier this month, NASA administrator Bill Nelson remarked at a press conference, “We’re going back to the moon to learn to live, to work, to survive.”
“When faced with such dangerous environments, how can you ensure the survival of human beings? Not a quarter of a million miles away, not a three-day voyage, but millions and millions of miles away on a months and months if not years-long journey, we will learn how to use the resources on the moon to build things in the future as we go.”
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As part of a NASA briefing on Saturday, astronaut Randy Bresnik stressed the value of lunar exploration as training for a Mars landing.
He warned against relying solely on brand-new equipment and unworn footwear while wilderness camping in Alaska. Likewise, Mars is not the place to try out brand-new pieces of equipment for the first time.
Initially, “we’re going to go to some local areas a little closer,” Bresnik added. “Then, if your shoelaces break or something like that happens, you can just go back home,” she said.
The International Space Station (ISS) has been the home and workplace of astronauts for over 20 years, as it travels about 254 miles above Earth in its low-Earth orbit. Their extended stays (six months to nearly a year) in space have shed light on the physiological effects of microgravity on the human body.
Space station resident and NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman compared his time in orbit to “walking on Mars” when speaking at a recent conference in Houston. Wiseman heads NASA’s Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center. “In order to accomplish this, we had to go to such great lengths. We’re working to improve conditions here on Earth and to spread human civilization throughout the solar system.”
As with Artemis I, the 2024 Artemis II mission will involve astronauts circling the moon at a greater distance than any of the Apollo missions. In late 2025, on the Artemis III mission, the first woman and the next man will touch down on the moon’s south pole, where permanent shadows may conceal ice and other resources that could feed people on protracted moonwalks.
NASA’s principal exploration scientist, Jacob Bleacher, put it this way: “Our moon serves as basically a cosmic library just next door.” “The books in this library are, in a sense, the rocks and ice on the moon. It is possible to utilize them to piece together the history of the solar system. Understanding what was going on on Earth as life spread around the solar system is greatly aided by this.”
The Artemis initiative seeks to build a permanent human settlement on the lunar surface and a lunar outpost in orbit, known as the Gateway.
In order to get to Mars, NASA is “working through the broad exploration objectives and then limiting down to an architecture,” as Free put it. Our goal is to complete the necessary architecture, decisions, and procedure by the beginning of the next year.
The Obama administration has been steadfast in its commitment to sending humans to Mars by 2033.
Bhavya Lal, NASA’s assistant administrator for technology, policy, and strategy, remarked that the agency was at a “historic inflection point” in preparation for “the most significant sequence of research and human exploration missions spanning a generation” with Monday’s launch of Artemis I.