NASA is heading back to the moon, but this
time, instead of taking one step, they’re
hoping for a much longer stay.
It’s been 50 years since Neil Armstrong
took that fateful step pronouncing those 10
words that changed the history of spaceflight:
“One small step for man, one giant leap
for mankind.” But since the final Apollo
mission in 1972, there’s been a hold on
lunar exploration until recently.
In 2019, NASA announced its plans to return
to the moon with the exciting news of sending
the first woman and man to the Moon’s south
pole by 2024. The lunar program also got a
new moniker: Artemis after the Greek goddess
of the Moon and, fittingly, Apollo’s twin sister
Reaching the moon by 2024 is of course an
idealized timeline and is heavily dependent
on funding. The new Artemis mission is estimated
to cost twenty to thirty billion dollars over the next
five years. To fast track the effort, the
White House has requested an additional one point six
billion but that’s yet to be confirmed.
Cost aside, with the successful test of the
Orion capsule in early July, NASA may just
be one step closer to returning to the Moon.
The Orion spacecraft is built to carry crew members beyond low-Earth orbit.
It’s composed of three major parts: a launch
abort system or LAS, which would separate
the spacecraft from the rocket if an accident
were to occur during launch; a crew module,
where astronauts would live and work; and
a service module, which is essential to the
crew as it provides life support and energy,
in addition to the spacecraft’s propulsion
system. Ensuring the functionality of each
of these components is crucial for the survival
of the astronauts. And on July 2, 2019, the
Orion test spacecraft passed a full stress
test to ensure its launch abort system was
able to outrun a speeding rocket and pull
the crew module to safety.
But in order to get to deep space, the Orion
capsule will need some help. And this is where
it’s rocket comes in. The Orion capsule will
be hitching a ride on the Space Launch System
or SLS, a rocket that is currently being built.
The SLS is designed to carry Orion into deep
space, with missions to the Moon and Mars.
The SLS will have multiple configurations
for each of its missions. Its first will be
the Block 1, designed for an uncrewed mission
beyond the moon. A subsequent planned configuration
is the Block 1B vehicle, which will be a manned
cargo mission, and next is the Block 2 crew,
expected to be NASA’s workhorse, shuttling
cargo to the Moon, Mars, and other deep space
missions.
And it’s with the Artemis 1 mission that
the world’s most powerful rocket will take
its first test, making it the first integrative
flight of Orion and the SLS. Standing at roughly
98 meters and weighing around 2,600
metric tons, the SLS Block 1 will generate
39,144 kilonewtons of thrust at liftoff. That’s about 15 percent
more power than the Saturn V rocket.
It will be able to carry more than 26 metric
tons of cargo to orbits beyond the Moon, with
later upgrades hoping to shuttle at least
45 metric tons. Once the SLS is completed,
NASA says it will be the only rocket with
the power necessary to carry astronauts and
payloads beyond Earth’s orbit and into deep
space.
Now that we have the capsule and the rocket
covered, the last piece of the puzzle is the
deep space outpost called the Gateway, and
it’s a key element to landing astronauts
on the lunar surface. Located roughly 400,000
km away from Earth, the Gateway
will be a small space station that will orbit
the Moon, allowing for the Orion spacecraft
to dock, where it will serve as a base for
astronauts to conduct scientific experiments,
expeditions, and get accustomed to living
in deep space.
Crew members will visit the Gateway at least
once a year for up to three months at a time
and unlike the International Space Station
which is the size of a six bedroom house,
the Gateway will only be the size of a small
studio apartment. In order to visit the lunar
surface, astronauts would take a reusable
lunar landing system down to the surface to
explore and NASA is looking to the commercial
sector to fulfill this need. The system would
need to include elements for descent, ascent,
transfer, refueling, and a surface suit.
As for the construction of the gateway, plans
are already underway. NASA hopes to send up
large portions of the spaceship for automatic
assembly on roughly six rocket launches, which
is a steal considering that it took 34 launches
to build the ISS.
So you’re probably wondering, when Artemis
will take flight? While the Gateway is expected
to be completed in 2024, the unmanned test
mission, known as Artemis 1, is expected to
launch before 2021 and should last about three
weeks. The first manned mission, Artemis 2
will launch in 2022, orbiting our lunar neighbour
before returning to Earth. But it’s in 2024
that NASA will finally revisit the lunar surface
in over 50 years. In fact, Artemis 3 will
deliver pioneering astronauts to the Moon’s
South Pole for the very first time.
But the Artemis program isn’t just important
for the lunar exploration. Preparing astronauts
for life on the Gateway will allow for more
studies on how the human body responds to
life in deep space and provide more opportunities
for exploration. Long-term, the Artemis program
hopes to create a lunar colony by 2028, an
essential pit-stop for getting a manned mission
to Mars.
There are plenty of upcoming launches, so
if there’s a specific one you’d like us
to cover, let us know in the comments below. And if you liked
this episode, make sure to tune in to Discovery’s
Confessions from Space Apollo airing tonight,
tonight July 20th.
Here’s a preview:
“if you’re gonna accomplish something,
you’re gonna have to take risks.”
“We were close,
to not being able to come home.”
“and then, bingo!–”
the moon was in your window”
“John Young told me, ‘Don’t touch this handle. I’m the driver'”
“yeah!”
“I just look, in awe, at this incredibly
beautiful planet.”
“It’s one small step for man,
one giant leap, for mankind.”
Thanks for watching and don’t forget to subscribe. I’ll see you next time on Seeker.