NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, the robot will now seek signs of ancient life and collect samples that will eventually make it back to planet Earth.
For astronauts to land on Mars, they first need to explore the Moon further, at least that’s what NASA believes since the Apollo flights ended half a century ago.
Ever since, there have been only a few robot missions to the Moon, and human projects have concentrated on missions in low Earth orbit.
But the time has finally come for the American Space Agency to put humans in the Moon again within this decade, possibly by 2024. By doing so, they hope to lay the foundation for future human exploration of Mars.
This ambitious program is called Artemis- named after Apollo’s twin sister- and it will pretty much recreate the sequence of missions that sent astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
The United States return for the first time to the lunar surface since the Apollo program ended, will inaugurate a new era of deep-space science.
A NASA report highlighted what NASA would like to find out about the Moon, and why getting astronauts on the lunar surface is important to help them.
Artemis III, would be an opportunity to study the Moon’s water content directly and help engineers learn how humans can use lunar resources (like water ice) to develop a sustainable colony.
According to the study, the state of the Moon can gives us specific clues about what Earth experienced billions of years ago. The moon is a desolate place with no atmosphere, so its surface is an untouchable record of meteorite impacts over time.
Eighteen U.S. astronauts have already been selected to train for NASA’s Artemis missions.
One of them, will most likely make history as the first woman to walk on the Moon as nine out of the eighteen selected are women.
The laborious trip is not for the faint hearted and it requires years of instruction, but in preparation for the potential lunar assignment, these eighteen NASA astronauts have already started training.
Getting to the Moon and then returning to Earth is risky, in fact Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, almost failed in 1969 when Apollo 17 mission touched down near the edge of an ancient lava sea called Mare Serenitatis.
In this decade, when NASA sends astronauts into lunar orbit, they will do so in the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built, the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion space capsule. Both the rocket and Orion have been repurposed from earlier versions that NASA had been working on to send astronauts to visit an asteroid and later Mars.
NASA’s Artemis program also aims to build the Gateway with the cooperation of commercial and international partners.
The Gateway will be similar to the International Space Station (ISS) and it will be a cislunar station that will will orbit the Moon at a distance of approximately 3,000km and reachable within five days of travel.
Its construction will be the first human station built beyond Earth’s orbit and a great base for astronauts going to and from the lunar surface.
It will also allow them to explore more parts of the lunar surface than ever before and could eventually support astronauts going to Mars who will be able to stop at the orbiting outpost to refresh before continuing their journey.
NASA hopes that the foreign partners engaging in what they call a “sustainable lunar exploration”, will agree to a set of principles written in a document called the Artemis Accords.
The Artemis Accords include commitments to use the Moon for peaceful purposes, to share knowledge and scientific data that will be transmitted to Earth, to collaborate if an emergency situation arises, and to preserve sites of historical interest such as the one where Apollo 11 landed.
In a not so distant future, for NASA’s and the international space agencies collaborating, the Moon will no longer be the final destination but an operational base (The Gateway) where astronauts could have a rest before continuing the journey onto Mars and other deep-space destinations.
Another giant step in the future of science, technology and exploration of deep cosmos, and a new era of human evolution. When humans walk again on Earth’s main satellite, it will most likely bring back an incredible sense of wonder to future generations of scientists.