The Space & Beyond Blog
Artemis: NASA’s moon mission 2024
The Artemis program will land astronauts on the Moon and build a Moon base
NASA’s Artemis program is committed to landing American astronauts, including the first woman, on the Moon by 2024. No person has been back to the lunar surface since 1972. The Artemis program is named for the Greek goddess of the Moon and twin sister to Apollo for whom NASA named the space program that first brought astronauts to the Moon half a century ago. This mission will use new innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before and develop a moon base there. As part of the Artemis program, NASA is collaborating with commercial and international partners across the globe to help establish a sustainable human settlement on the Moon.
On April 9, 2019, NASA expressed its commitment to a timeline of landing humans on the lunar south pole by 2024. NASA’s lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phased approach: the first is focused on speed – landing astronauts on the Moon in five years – while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. Source: NASA
Artemis 1, 2, and 3
Artemis will consist of three missions. Each will be a consecutive step on the path to establishing a basecamp on the Moon. Instruments will be sent ahead beginning in 2021, after the agency flies two trial stages around the moon to test their deep space exploration systems. These un-crewed flights launching the first mission will hopefully test the powerful new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. However, it is possible an alternative rocket will be used for transportation like the Falcon Heavy.
The new SLS rocket will launch Artemis missions with the Orion spacecraft on top. Source: NASA
For the second mission, the rocket and Orion spacecraft, NASA’s new spacecraft, will take astronauts nearly a quarter million miles from Earth to lunar orbit. Astronauts will dock Orion at the Gateway to begin the third mission. Gateway is an outpost that will be around the Moon to support and provide a platform for experiments in lunar orbit. NASA is going to send individual pieces of Gateway up on their rocket and astronauts are going to have to actually build the station in lunar orbit. This middleman is critical for sustainable lunar exploration and will extend humanity’s presence in space.
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An illustration of the Gateway. Built with commercial and international partners, the Gateway is critical to sustainable lunar exploration and will serve as a model for future missions to Mars. Source: NASA
Boots on the Moon by 2024
NASA expects humans to land on the Moon by 2024 and hopefully about once a year after that. Landing systems have yet to be finalized but will tentatively transfer humans from Gateway, their floating base in orbit, to the surface of the moon for manned expeditions. When they land, astronauts will set foot where no human has ever been before, the Moon’s south pole. Their target is Shackleton Crater, which is two miles wide and about two miles deep. Data indicates ice may possibly make up about 20% of the surface in this crater.
A visualization of the Shackleton crater. The near (Earth-facing) side of the Moon is to the right. In the false-color elevation on the left, red is higher and blue is lower. Source: NASA
Future astronauts will need spacesuits to explore more of the surface, so NASA developed advanced extravehicular suits that will protect against the harsh environment of space. The astronauts will have to learn how to live and operate on the surface of another celestial body where they are three days from home. Other priorities and objectives for manned missions include finding water and other critical resources needed for long-term exploration, learning more about our satellite, and solving long-standing lunar mysteries about our home planet. The crew will then use the Orion spacecraft to return safely to Earth after their mission. The capsule was built to withstand the extreme heat upon re-entry into the atmosphere thanks to its updated heat shield.
Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at JSC, wearing a ground prototype of the new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). Source: NASA/Joel Kowsky
Mission to Mars
What scientists learn about the moon from Artemis will be used to take the next giant leap for mankind: sending humans to Mars. To reach Mars safely and successfully, NASA must first explore more of the Moon’s surface with human and robotic explorers. Lunar missions will help to prove the technologies humans need to confidently conduct work and support life away from Earth before sending astronauts to embark on the first human mission to Mars. The Artemis program will demonstrate new capabilities needed for future Mars exploration and hopefully inspire a new generation of explorers.
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