Artemis: Humanity's Return to the Moon

September 4, 2022

What is Artemis?

In Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo's sister and Goddess of the Moon. Between 1968 and 1972, America launched 9 human missions to the Moon, 6 of which successfully touched down, allowing 12 men to walk on the lunar surface. NASA's next chapter of lunar exploration, Artemis, has the task of not just going to the Moon to create a long-term human presence on and around it, but also to prepare for ever-more-complex human missions to Mars. These missions will help us set the stage for a human return. NASA and its partners are preparing to land the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.

Artemis - Goddess of the Hunt
Artemis: Goddess of the Hunt & the Moon

Artemis 1

The first mission, Artemis I, will send the crew capsule into orbit around the Moon for about six weeks, allowing NASA to test a series of critical systems like life support before it puts people on board. Artemis I is a test run. It's a test run for the rocket, spacecraft, ground systems, and infrastructure. It will be a critical step toward landing people on the Moon by 2025 and will serve as a pathfinding mission laying a foundation for future trips to the Moon. It will also be the first test flight of NASA's new space launch system, Megarocket, and the Orion crew capsule. Another key objective will be testing the spacecraft's heat shield. It's meant to protect the Orion capsule from the extreme temperatures it will encounter entering Earth's atmosphere at Mach 32, which is around 39,422 kilometres per hour. The idea is to run all the hardware and software through its paces and show that the rockets can fire this spacecraft out of Earth's gravitational pull. The spacecraft can separate and travel to the Moon and return to this planet safely. NASA will also monitor Orion's navigation systems and its resilience when travelling through high radiation areas. Three mannequins on board will be fitted with sensors to determine how astronauts will fare on the flight. Another test will be recovering the spacecraft after it splashes down in the ocean.

Artemis 2 & 3

Artemis II will follow a similar path, but with astronauts on board. Artemis III will carry people to the Moon's surface.

Opinion - NASA's planned mission to the moon invests in humankind's future  - The Liberty Champion
Artemis Phases 1, 2, & 3

Space Launch System (SLS)

The Space Launch System is the rocket responsible for launching the Orion exploration spacecraft on the journey to the Moon and beyond. It is designed to be adjustable and evolvable to make revisions for a variety of space-oriented goals, such as sending humans and support systems deep into space. With a mass of 2600 tonnes (20 blue whales) and a thrust force equivalent to 39 Boeing 747s, it towers over the Statue of Liberty. To reach space, the rocket carries around 740 kiloliters of liquid oxygen, and around 2000 kiloliters of liquid hydrogen. It's a multistage rocket programmed to separate at different stages of takeoff.

Delays & Costs

The vehicles that NASA plans to use for Artemis have faced delays. The mission was originally scheduled to take off in 2021. The contractors building the different elements of the SLS rocket system and Orion have run into technical challenges and have had to work those out. They've faced supply chain problems. And some of these rockets NASA has not attempted to have built and launched in quite a long time. So part of the challenge was simply getting back up to speed on creating really big, powerful rockets again. The first Artemis rocket and the broader Artemis program are expected to be costly. Last November, NASA's inspector general forecasted the agency would spend $93 billion over more than a dozen years on Artemis. With critical costs for the first launch are expected to be around 4.1 billion. NASA leaders have said the agency is pushing to reduce costs for Artemis and streamline operations. Some of the contractors building the vehicles have said, "part of the cost question is because we've been building these for the first time in this development mode. And when we build future rockets and spacecraft, the cost should come down because we're simply in production mode and not in this developmental stage of creating the vehicles for the first time." After engineers were unable to fix a fuel leakage in the launch system, the space agency hasn’t yet set date for the next launch attempt.

NASA's return to the moon starts with critical Artemis I test flight |  Fortune
Artemis rocket next to the moon, delayed by oil leaks

Long Term Ambitions

There are more long-term ambitions for NASA's Artemis programs. Astronauts will live and work in deep space and develop science and technology to send the first humans to Mars. The Space Agency has plans to build Gateway, a multipurpose outpost orbiting the Moon. It has also discussed developing a base camp on the lunar surface. More broadly, NASA says its return to the moon efforts will help prepare for future exploration of Mars. Artemis now has a vision of sending astronauts back to the Moon and creating a sustained infrastructure. The idea is that NASA will build all that infrastructure and know-how hardware to sort of make that happen and use that knowledge base to pursue the next frontier, which will be a trip to Mars.

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