Half a century after landing on the Moon for the first time ever, NASA is ready to go back. This time, however, NASA is not calling the Moon the destination; it’s calling it the beginning. The American space agency wants to colonise our planet’s only natural satellite and make it a celestial outpost for astronauts headed into deep space. According to a recent report by Phys.org, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine confirmed that the space agency would make exploratory voyages to the Moon as part of the new “Artemis” lunar programme starting next year.
Slated to happen sometime next year, Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed mission around the Moon. In 2022, Artemis 2 will take humans around the Moon’s orbit. In 2024, Artemis 3 will finally put astronauts on the lunar surface. This time though, the crew will include the first ever woman on the Moon. The rocket planned for all these Artemis missions is the Boeing-led Space Launch System (SLS), which has been criticised of late for delays and flaws.
At the top of the SLS, NASA will place its Orion space capsule. Built primarily by Lockheed Martin, Orion will ferry astronauts between the Earth and the Moon. In addition to all of this, NASA is planning to build a mini-station in the Moon’s orbit called Gateway. The construction of Gateway will happen from 2022 to 2024 with the help of private space agencies, which will undertake five separate construction missions. When fully built and functional, Gateway will act as a docking station for any Moon-bound Orion space capsule.
NASA’s lunar lander will also be made by private space agencies. Sometime in 2024, when NASA starts sending astronauts back to the Moon again, one part of the lunar lander will stay back on the Moon, while another returns to Gateway carrying returning astronauts. The Orion capsule, which will be designed to dock with Gateway, will take the astronauts back home. In the future, astronauts may also continue on their onward journey to Mars or other planets while using the Moon as a stopover for resources. “Our goal is ultimately to move on to Mars and not get stuck on the surface of the Moon,” commented Jim Bridenstine.
Care for a titbit? In Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister, who symbolises hunting and wilderness. You can see now why NASA followed Apollo up with Artemis.