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  • Writer's pictureArnie Benn

NASA’s Artemis: A Giant Leap Towards Sustainable Lunar Exploration



It’s a bold new chapter in space exploration!

Finally.


The last words spoken on the lunar surface — in 1972 during Apollo 17 — were:


Commander Gene Cernan: “As I take Man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just (say) what I believe history will record: that America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed, the crew of Apollo 17.”


Mission Control: “Roger, Geno.” [1]


Now, 50 years later, the world watches with bated breath, as NASA's Artemis Program makes ambitious strides forward in its endeavor to return humans to the Moon, and to establish a sustainable presence there. This isn’t just a sequel to the Apollo missions; it’s a bold new chapter in space exploration, and it promises to redefine our relationship with the cosmos.


The Artemis Program, named after the twin sister of Apollo and the Greek goddess of the Moon, is a testament to our collective aspiration to explore the unknown. It aims to land the first woman (shout-out to all For All Mankind fans) and the next man (since Commander ‘Geno’) on the Moon, and further, to establish a sustainable human presence there by 2028[2]. This initiative is part of an international effort to push the boundaries of human exploration and to pave the way for future missions to Mars[3].


Artemis I


The launch of the Artemis I mission in November 2022 marked a significant milestone in this journey. The un-crewed spacecraft was sent around the Moon, setting the stage for future crewed missions[4]. The success of this mission has been a testament to the technological advancements and the relentless spirit of exploration that defines our era.


One of the key innovations in the Artemis Program is the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), a powerful, advanced launch vehicle designed for deep space missions. The SLS is expected to be the most powerful rocket ever built, capable of carrying astronauts and large cargo to the Moon and beyond. The successful launch of Artemis I was a testament to the capabilities of this new rocket system[5].


Artemis II


“If we go, who gets to go?”


An initiative to return humans to the Moon, and eventually send them to Mars, is not just about the technology. It's also about the people — those dedicated visionaries who forge dreams all the way into reality.


Following the unmanned Artemis I mission, a crewed mission is planned. With a November 2024 launch, the crew will circle the Moon, potentially venturing further out from Earth than ever a human has, before returning planet-side for splashdown and recovery. If their mission is successful, it paves the way for Artemis III — a Lunar surface landing. Hopefully by 2026[6].


Artemis II lunar flyby mission crew (from left): NASA astronauts Christina Koch, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman (foreground) and CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen. (Credit: Josh Valcarcel/NASA)

The commander of the Artemis II mission is NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, a decorated Navy pilot and test pilot, and veteran of a 165-day mission as flight engineer for Expedition 41 on the International Space Station (ISS). Interestingly, Captain Wiseman stepped down from his post as Chief of the Astronaut Office in order to become eligible for a flight assignment. (For All Mankind gets a second shout-out!)


Mission pilot Captain Victor J. Glover, a former Navy pilot, made history as pilot on the Crew-1 SpaceX Crew Dragon, Resilience, becoming the first African American astronaut to live aboard the ISS for an extended period, where he served as a flight engineer during Expedition 64.


Mission Specialist Christina Koch served as a flight engineer on the ISS for Expeditions 59, 60, and 61. Koch holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, spending a total of 328 days in space. She also participated in the first all-female spacewalks.


Mission Specialist Jeremy Hansen, a former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, has been with the Canadian Space Agency since 2009. Colonel Hansen has also trained at Neemo 19, the ocean floor Aquarius habitat off Key Largo, Florida, where aspects of deep-space exploration is simulated.

Artemis II crew, Ottawa, 4.25.2023. (L-R): CSA President Lisa Campbell, Reid Wiseman, Jeremy Hansen, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Christina Koch, Victor Glover, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Clear skies and tailwinds, brave friends!


Challenges


The Artemis Program is not without its challenges, though. The ambitious timeline, the complexity of the missions, and the significant costs involved are among those elements weighing on the program. It also relies heavily on the successful development and operation of new technologies, which always carries a degree of risk.


Most proponents of space travel, however, would agree that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages of this venture. Exploration is an indelible human trait; it is essential not only for our sanity but also for our inspiration.


Advantages


The potential benefits of the Artemis Program are immense. It promises to advance our understanding of the Moon and the solar system, provide opportunities for international and commercial partnerships, and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers.


There will also invariably be technological innovations that will arise from this program that will then find their way into common everyday use, things that we might not have thought to engineer until their utility was revealed. This has been happening since the beginning of the space program. A few examples include satellite television and communication, smoke detectors, memory foam, fuel cells, infrared thermometers, scratch-resistant lenses, the GPS system, and even cordless vacuum cleaners. (No relation to the almost-vacuum of space outside the spacecraft.)


Looking Forward


As we stand on the cusp of this new era of lunar exploration, it is worth remembering the words of NASA Administrator Bill Nelson: "With the Artemis program, we are going to learn to live and work on another world for the benefit of humanity."[7] These words encapsulate the promise and the challenge of the Artemis Program. It's not just about reaching the Moon; it's about expanding the horizons of human potential.


The Artemis Program represents a bold step forward in space exploration. It is a testament to our collective aspiration to explore the unknown and push the boundaries of human potential. As we look to the stars, we are reminded of our capacity for innovation, our thirst for knowledge, and our shared dream of a future where humans can live and work beyond our home planet.


The Artemis Program is not just a mission; it is a symbol of what we can achieve when we dare to dream.


One wonders: where might we be in 50 years on from now?

An intriguing question!


(One possible answer... is depicted in a newly-released near-future science-fiction novel. The Intrepid: Dawn Of The Interstellar Age is set in the 2070's aboard humanity's first interstellar mission. An impressive international crew sets out from the small Mars base — built for the eventual purpose of inter-planetary and interstellar staging — to explore the closest potentially-habitable exoplanet in the Alpha Centauri system, Proxima b. To conclude this shameless plug: the science and engineering in this hard sci-fi ensemble adventure-drama are intended to be as (relativistically) accurate as possible. CLICK HERE for more information & reader reviews.)


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