Going Back to Space


Since the revolutionary days of Apollo 11 in the 1960s, space enthusiasts have had just one pressing question at the forefront for NASA: When will we do it again? For decades, the government agency has been promising more lunar missions to come—to no avail—but now, stirringly, they have finally announced a projected timeline. The Artemis III mission, scheduled for 2025, is determined to land humanity on the surface of the Moon for the first time in over 50 years.

NASA’s Artemis missions have been several complex steps towards the establishment of constant human presence on the Moon. Artemis I demonstrated that the primary spacecraft, Orion, is capable of enduring the stressful conditions of exit, reentry, splashdown, and recovery that a manned mission would require. Artemis II, which is scheduled for May 2024, will perform a lunar flyby with four crew members before returning to Earth. This mission will be the first manned craft to escape low Earth orbit since Apollo 11. Finally, Artemis III will launch for the Moon in 2025 from the Kennedy Space Center’s SLS (Space Launch System) in Florida, manned with the most diverse and well-trained crew of astronauts in history.

Distinct aspects of the Artemis missions have the science community riled with excitement. The astronauts’ spacesuits will be far more flexible, durable, and sensory-adapted for the express purpose of increasing their range of motion and allowing for more thorough explorations. Additionally, the landing craft, Starship, will be landing somewhere far different than Apollo’s Eagle, which touched down in the Moon’s equatorial region—Starship will be landing on the Moon’s South Pole, promising remarkable photographs of the landscape and brand new examinations of the lunar surface. According to NASA, this perspective will show the Sun hovering “just above the horizon, casting long, dark shadows across the terrain, which the crew will explore using headlamps and navigational tools,” as well as a completely fresh view of the Earth.

Artemis III also plans to spend several days on the Moon, in contrast to Apollo 11’s measly twenty-one hours. This extra time will grant the astronauts the necessary freedoms to collect samples, record footage, map the terrain, and analyze data from their surroundings, which will provide a wealth of new information to supplement Apollo’s groundbreaking research.

For the return trip, the two astronauts in Starship will return to the NRHO—the near-rectilinear halo orbit that surrounds the moon—and reunite with their Orion crewmates, where they will then spend five days in orbit before setting off towards Earth once more.

If all goes to plan over the next several years, Artemis III will be the single most complex engineering feat since Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the lunar surface. Some harbor doubt over NASA’s use of government funds towards this mission, as one skeptic claims, “Congress appears to have learned nothing from the backward-looking failure that the SLS represents, and will continue to throw money at it for years to come,” insisting that the budget allotted to these missions is a waste of time and investments. Others, including NASA’s assistant deputy associate administrator for exploration systems, Amit Kshatriya, remain firm in their resolve that this mission is a pioneering effort at the forefront of a space renaissance in the United States: “So, all our missions blend together for our overarching goal, the expansion of knowledge… In every state of the country, there are companies working on Artemis. It really does transcend some of the normal discourse we see day-to-day. I think that’s a testament to what we value as a society, and is such a positive reinforcing message of what we can do together.” Artemis has even been said to be the precursor of a centuries-long drive to put human beings on Mars.

All speculation aside, the second and third Artemis missions are still in the development stage, and the timeline is still subject to change as the spacecrafts are tested and calculations are redone. NASA has altered its aims in the past, and there is no predicting for certain what the agency will announce in the coming years. Despite this, Artemis represents more than a concrete plan to explore the Moon: it represents the human ambition to explore, to indulge curiosity about the great unknown of our universe, and the almost childlike hope to understand more about our nearest celestial neighbor, which bypasses the minutiae worries of funding or economics. If nothing else, Artemis III will uplift humanity’s raised gaze to the heavens and cement the possibility of one day seeing it, in all its strange and wild glory, for ourselves.

Categories: News

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