NASA believes it’s time to revisit the moon
Man made it to the moon decades ago, but hasn’t been back in 50 years. NASA believes it’s time to revisit the moon. This time though, the astronauts will stay for much longer than just a few hours or days at a time. Are we entering the era of living on the moon?
Been There, Done That
Imagine being the first human to walk where no man has walked before. Neil Armstrong did that when he stepped foot onto the moon in July 1969, famously declaring, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The space missions, called “Apollo,” that sent man to the moon ran until 1972. They were cancelled because it was too expensive.
With the moon all but forgotten, NASA turned its attention to bigger and better things, like Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. It’s not hard to figure out why the brainiacs at NASA lost interest in the moon. Which would you rather explore? A dull, grey, and desolate piece of rock, or a faraway red planet that’s supposedly full of extinct volcanoes and has its own seasons? (That’s Mars, by the way.) How about a planet that is so massive, it could fit 11 Earths? (That’s Jupiter.) And who could resist discovering more about Saturn’s beautiful rings of orbiting rock particles?
So, for decades, NASA was not particularly interested in the moon. Instead, they concentrated on building the Skylab. This was America’s first space station which was operational for all of 24 weeks, between 1973 and 1974. It wasn’t the greatest success, which is why NASA quickly moved on to the Space Shuttle program. Eventually they busied themselves with building the International Space Station (ISS), which welcomed its first astronauts in 2000.
In 2004, President George W. Bush felt it was time to take man back to the moon. This led to NASA creating the Constellation program, which aimed to have mankind on the moon by 2020.
In 2010, President Barack Obama cancelled Constellation. He said that it was too expensive and not innovative enough. “We’ve been there before,” he announced in a speech at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Instead, Obama wanted NASA to focus on getting to Mars.
Guess what Donald Trump did after he became president. In 2018, he released a new space policy that said that mankind should check out the moon more thoroughly before attempting a peek at Mars. Apparently, in the last 50 years, we humans have learned a lot more about the moon. For instance, we now know that the moon does have water, in the form of ice (which is something that astronomers have been wondering about for centuries). Armed with all this knowledge, and with more advanced technology, a visit to the moon could be very productive.
The Artemis Program
Which leads us to the Artemis program. Artemis is a three-part program by NASA that aims to put humans back on the moon — but for a much longer stretch of time than the astronauts of the Apollo missions. In fact, according to NASA, the mission is to go to the moon “and stay there!”
The first phase of the Artemis program was successfully completed on December 11, 2022. Artemis 1 was an uncrewed test flight (a flight without anyone on it) that traveled in space for 25.5 days, circling the moon before splashing back down in the Pacific Ocean.
Instead of humans on board, there were three mannequins, which were covered in more than 5,600 sensors, to give the scientists an idea of what humans will experience during the space flight. I know you’re wondering, so I’ll confirm that yes, each of the three mannequins had a name: Captain Moonikin Campos, Zohar, and Helga. Captain Moonikin wore a survival suit. Zohar sported an Israeli-made spacesuit, a mezuzah, a stone from the Dead Sea, some seeds that will be planted in Israel, and his very own Israeli passport. Poor Helga wore no protective gear at all. And because NASA scientists clearly have a sense of humor, there was also a Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep on board to keep the mannequins company.
The second mission of the Artemis program, which is scheduled to take place some time in 2024, will be the program’s first crewed mission. Four astronauts will be the first to travel aboard the Orion spacecraft (more on that later). They will also travel further than any other astronaut has done before. Orion will carry its crew on a complete orbit of the moon, travelling more than 7,400 km beyond the far side of the moon. The mission will take eight to ten days, during which the astronauts will collect important data that will help future spaceflights.
Before we get into Artemis 3, let’s first take a look at the three stars of the Artemis program: Orion, the Lunar Gateway, and the Moon Landing Module.
Star 1: Orion
An ambitious program like Artemis needs a spacecraft to match. The Space Launch System rocket (SLS) is the most powerful rocket the world has ever seen. It was designed to carry the Orion capsule into space. Orion was the one major success of the Constellation program. It’s a crew and service capsule, which means that it is designed to hold four to six crewmembers as well as all their equipment and experiments. Since it’s a spacecraft of the 21st century, Orion uses solar power instead of fuel. This means that it can function for longer periods of time than the Apollo capsules.
I’ve seen the Apollo 10 command module capsule at the London Science Museum — just wondering how three grown men sat inside there for days on end made me feel super claustrophobic! Artemis astronauts will be glad to know that Orion is 50 percent larger than the Apollo capsule, but they shouldn’t rejoice too soon — after all, Orion can fit double the number of crew. The capsule allows a very generous 2.25m3 of living space for each crew member. How spacious. Not!
If all goes as planned, Orion will one day be used to carry astronauts to Mars.
Star 2: Lunar Gateway
Now let’s get to the reason why the Artemis mission is different from all of NASA’s previous space missions. The answer lies in the Lunar Gateway. This very cool-sounding thing is a space station that will orbit the moon indefinitely. Because it will be so close to the moon, it will be used as a gateway for missions to the moon.
Orion will dock at the Lunar Gateway, and the astronauts will be able to get out of their claustrophobic space capsule and chill in a more spacious environment. Just kidding! There won’t be any chilling up there. The astronauts will live in the Gateway, keeping busy with their experiments and research. Unlike the ISS, the Lunar Gateway will only be lived in for short periods of time. The average mission on the ISS is around six months. Astronauts will spend about one month at a time on Gateway.
Gateway can be expanded as needed. New missions can dock at the lunar station, so there can be lots of different lunar missions all having fun on the moon at the same time.
Apollo was only able to reach a specific area on the moon, and that was because it had a limited orbit. Gateway, on the other hand, can adjust its orbit so that astronauts can make their way to almost every part of the moon. Gateway will be in a unique halo orbit — basically travelling in an oval around the moon, completing an orbit in seven days. This is the same type of orbit that will be needed for Mars.
Star 3: Moon Landing Module
We’re so close to the moon, but how do we get there? Gateway comes with its own lunar lander. This is a spacecraft that has been designed specifically for travelling between Gateway and the moon. The Apollo command capsules had their own landers, but Orion doesn’t need one since Gateway has one.
When they’re ready to visit the moon, the astronauts will settle into Gateway’s lunar lander, officially called the Moon Landing Module. There will be two types of Moon Landing Modules, a human landing system (HLS) for the astronauts, and a separate lander for cargo and robotics. The lander will undock from Gateway, travel to the moon and land on its surface. With one small step, the astronauts can now take one giant leap for mankind and go about their business on the moon.
When they’ve had enough of the dull grey rock, they can hop back into the lander and return to Gateway.
Now that all three components of the lunar mission are in place, we’re ready for Artemis 3 — the most exciting phase of the program.
Artemis 3 is set to launch in 2025. Four lucky astronauts (whose names will be announced in January 2023) will take off in Orion and dock at the Lunar Gateway, where they’ll remain for 30 days. Two of those astronauts will be even luckier, as they will get to board the HLS and become the first humans to walk the moon in more than 50 years. Not only that, they’ll go where no man has gone before! The Apollo missions took the astronauts to the moon’s equator. Artemis 3 will explore the moon’s South Pole.
These two astronauts will be hard at work for an entire week, conducting up to four spacewalks and carrying out experiments on the moon’s surface while their colleagues chill on Gateway. Nah, there’s no chilling up here, remember? The astronauts on Gateway will be carrying out their own experiments, as well as making sure that their friends on the moon can communicate clearly with the base back on earth.
Once Artemis 3 is completed successfully, NASA will concentrate on Artemis 4, 5, and 6, each of which will deliver different pieces of equipment to the Lunar Gateway. And because NASA is always thinking way ahead, they’ve already got ideas for Artemis 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 (the last of which is planned for 2034.)
Moon to Mars
Don’t think that all these Artemis missions means that NASA has suddenly forgotten about Mars. The Red Planet actually features very prominently in the Artemis mission statement, which aims to “lay the groundwork for sending astronauts to Mars.”
What does the moon have to do with Mars?
Space-obsessed folk around the world seem to be particularly obsessed with establishing a human colony on Mars. But Mars is so much further than the moon, and getting there is much more complicated. So, it makes sense that astronauts will practice on the moon. Artemis is meant to be the starting point of one day establishing a lunar settlement. Once that’s all figured out, Mars will be next.
NASA scientists may be all about space, but a lot of their inventions are useful on earth, too. In fact, NASA has a department called the Technology Utilization Program, which coordinates with outside companies that want to turn NASA inventions into things we can use every day. Here are some of NASA’s most useful, and even life-saving, inventions:
Charge-coupled device — used in digital cameras
Life shears — used to rescue victims from car wreckages
Insulin pump — used by diabetics
Scratch-resistant lenses — as seen in your glasses
Cochlear implants — used by deaf people
Anti-corrosion coating — protects ships, bridges and trains from rust
Memory foam — for those comfortable mattresses
Would you want to live on the moon? Maybe for you, nothing but Mars will do. As for me, there’s plenty I still want to see here on Earth.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 944)
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