On July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong made history by being the first human to step foot on the Moon as part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. Since then, a total of 11 other astronauts have had the privilege to leave their mark on the lunar surface, with the last being Eugene Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 mission in December of 1972. Humankind’s desire to expand beyond the limits of our planet is what has driven us to explore the Moon and shed some light on the secrets it has yet to reveal to us.
NASA is finally recommencing the quest to learn more about our only natural satellite through the Artemis lunar exploration program. This program will make use of new and innovative technologies to explore much more of the Moon’s territory. In addition, it will commit to landing more astronauts, including the first woman, onto the Moon’s surface by 2024. The name Artemis comes from name of the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology. Similar to the Apollo missions, the Artemis program will pave the way forward in advancing our capabilities to explore farther and in more depth than ever before. This mission will aim to first land astronauts on the Moon’s South Pole, a region of the Moon that has yet to be explored by humans. This will serve as a starting point in exploring the rest of the Moon’s surface that is still uncharted territory, using explorers that are both human and robotic. As technology advances, we will have the capability to better investigate the surface of the Moon, and possibly find water and other resources that could be used for further exploration down the line. While these are some of the key goals of the Artemis program, it will also act as a precursor to our eventual objective of sending the first humans to our neighboring planet, Mars.
Before sending actual humans to the lunar surface, NASA plans to send a series of science and technology instruments through commercial moon deliveries. A first uncrewed flight, Artemis 1, will be launched in 2020 to test the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will eventually send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit. The ultimate goal will be to have astronauts dock Orion at a small spaceship in orbit around the Moon called the Gateway. Similar to the international space station, here astronauts will be able to live and conduct experiments and research within the Moon’s orbit. The crew will be able to make expeditions from the Gateway to the Moon’s surface, and will return to Earth aboard Orion. The second mission (Artemis 2) is targeted for a 2022 launch, and will be the first SLS and Orion flight with crew, with the first humans landing by 2024 on Artemis 3, and approximately once every year after that.
The Artemis generation includes all of us, as well as future generations, for whom it will hopefully provide a great amount of inspiration and a myriad of dreams to reach for. This will prove to be yet another great achievement in history, and will only build on our knowledge and interest in the STEM fields!