How the United States wants to return to the Moon (before aiming for Mars)

Maxar Technologies/Handout/Reuters This Monday, August 29, the Artemis 1 rocket will take off from Florida. A first step in a long process that should lead NASA to set foot on the Moon again before targeting Mars (photo taken on August 25 by satellite imagery).

Maxar Technologies/Handout/Reuters

This Monday, August 29, the Artemis 1 rocket will take off from Florida. A first step in a long process that should lead NASA to set foot on the Moon again before targeting Mars (photo taken on August 25 by satellite imagery).

SPACE – This is the first stage of a huge project which is to take place this Monday, August 29 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, with the takeoff of the Artemis 1 mission. Because Artemis is the name of the American program returning on the Moon, one of NASA’s top priorities for decades to come.

Her name was chosen in echo of the Apollo program, having taken the only 12 men to have ever walked on the Moon, between 1969 and 1972. Artemis, in Greek mythology, is the twin sister of Apollo (“ Apollo in English) and a goddess associated with the Moon.

After takeoff on Monday, the idea is to send the first woman and the first person of color to the lunar surface, then to prepare – final objective – a first trip to Mars. The HuffPost takes stock of these missions of increasing difficulty which mark the entry into a new era of space conquest.

  • The first Artemis flights

With its takeoff on Monday, the Artemis 1 mission must test without a crew NASA’s new giant rocket, called SLS, as well as the Orion capsule installed at its top. The goal is to ensure that they can transport astronauts safely in the future.

Orion will go into orbit around the Moon before returning to Earth.

Then, in 2024, Artemis 2 will take astronauts to the Moon, but without landing there, as Apollo 8 did in 1968. The composition of the crew must be announced by the end of the year. We already know that a Canadian will be part of it and will thus become the first Canadian national to go into deep space.

  • 2025 or 2026 before landing on the Moon again?

This third mission can be compared to Apollo 11 (July 1969) since it will be the first of the program to land astronauts on the Moon. They are expected to arrive for the first time on the South Pole of the Moon, where the presence of water in the form of ice has been confirmed, and not near the equator as during Apollo.

Artemis 3 is officially scheduled for 2025, but according to an independent public audit it should actually take place in 2026 “at the earliest”. From Artemis 3, NASA wants to launch about one mission per year.

To do this, NASA has selected the private company SpaceX to build the Artemis 3 lander. Concretely, this lander will shuttle between the Orion capsule and the lunar surface: once in orbit around the Moon, the capsule will dock with the craft, sent separately upstream, which will then be responsible for lowering the astronauts to the surface, then remounting them. It is then aboard Orion that they will return to Earth.

This lander will be a version of the “Starship” spacecraft, which has so far only carried out suborbital tests. To reach Earth orbit, it will need to be powered by the “Super Heavy” first stage rocket, also in development.

And before being able to go to the Moon, it will have to refuel by refueling directly in space from another “Starship”, previously filled with fuel. A highly perilous transfer never before tested. For the continuation of the Artemis program, NASA has launched a new call for tenders with other companies for the development of additional landers.

  • A space station to aim further

The Artemis program also includes the construction of a station in orbit around the Moon, called Gateway.

The launch of the first two elements (a habitation module and the propulsion system) is scheduled for the end of 2024 at the earliest and will be carried out using a SpaceX “Falcon Heavy” rocket.

The following modules will be launched by SLS at the same time as Orion and its crew, responsible for assembling them at their destination. The astronauts will stay there between 30 and 60 days. Eventually, a lander will be docked there to allow them to descend to the Moon from the station. Gateway is also to serve as a stopover before future trips to Mars.

  • The final goal: Mars

Because Paradoxically, the star really at the heart of the Artemis program is not the Moon, but Mars.

NASA thus wishes to test, thanks to the Artemis program, the technologies necessary to send the first humans to the red planet: new combinations, vehicle for getting around, mini-power station, use of lunar water, etc.

The creation of a base on the surface of the Moon is envisaged. The idea is indeed to learn how to establish a lasting human presence in deep space, but not too much. In case of trouble, the Moon is only a few days away. March, several months at least.

See also on the HuffPost: NASA will send 2 more helicopters to Mars

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