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Critical Trip Back to the Moon

Critical Trip Back to the Moon
By Stella Law

tp 201910 future 02Moon is just the stepping stone; Mars is humanity鈥檚 priority #1 for a future manned mission. Pretty much all the smart people out there with a stake in humanity鈥檚 space endeavours have agreed on that proposition.


NASA, in particular, has enthusiastically embarked on said approach. You鈥檝e probably already heard that the premier space agency is currently busy preparing the groundwork for a revisit to the Earth鈥檚 closest neighbour. But, do you know why it is important to build a more permanent presence in the Moon before aiming for the bigger milestone, i.e. a manned mission to the Red Planet?


Well, here鈥檚 a simplified and to-the-point explanation of why NASA is prioritizing Artemis, the agency鈥檚 next crewed lunar mission.

Artists concept of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule prepared for launchArtist's concept of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule prepared for launch.






The strategic significance of the Artemis Lunar Mission

tp 201910 future 03For starters, NASA maintains that the moon is a rewarding destination in itself for an array of scientific and engineering purposes. At the same time, it also emphasizes that a crewed lunar mission will offer an archetypal experimental environment to expand the agency鈥檚 technological reach, which in turn will boost its preparations for more challenging missions such as the one planned for Mars.


For Artemis, NASA is collaborating with several international agencies and private enterprises including the European Space Agency (ESA) and SpaceX. This private-public partnership transcending international boundaries is aimed at expediting the process of sending astronauts to the lunar surface at the earliest possible, ushering a new era of space exploration.

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The Orion+Gateway combo is key for Future Manned Mars Missions


To quickly brush upon NASA鈥檚 strategy, it is building a spacecraft capable of taking humans into the deep space. Dubbed Orion, a spacecraft, can carry up to four astronauts into a distance no human has ever traversed before. With Artemis, this will be the Moon鈥檚 south pole.

An illustration of the power and propulsion element of the Lunar Gateway which is designed to be a reusable command module for astronauts in NASAs Artemis Moon programAn illustration of the power and propulsion element of the Lunar Gateway, which is designed to be a reusable command module for astronauts in NASA鈥檚 Artemis Moon program


The spacecraft, designed in collaboration with the ESA, is light enough to be propelled by NASA鈥檚 powerful Space Launch System (SLS) and it can travel hundreds of thousands of miles with adequate provisions to keep the crew alive in emergency scenarios.


Orion will dock to Gateway, a small spaceship which will be orbiting the Moon waiting for visiting spacecraft. It will be the Orion crew鈥檚 home-away-from-home.


No bigger than a studio apartment, Gateway will have living quarters, sophisticated laboratories, docking ports for spacecraft, and other facilities to support both manned and robotic missions. The level of sophistication in the design and the under-the-hood technologies is such that the spaceship has been internationally recognized as a critical component in humanity鈥檚 future in space.

Gateway 2024 Artist ConceptGateway 2024 Artist Concept


Per the existing roadmap, astronauts from NASA and other partner agencies will visit Gateway at least once every year, though their stay won鈥檛 exceed more than three months max at a go. Once there, the crew will use a human landing system featuring a transfer element for their journey to the low-lunar orbit from the Gateway.


In the next phase, they will use a descent element to land right on the lunar surface. During departure, the team will use an ascent element to return to the Gateway.

NASA is building the Orion Crew Survival System spacesuit to protect astronauts during launch reentry and emergency situations during Artemis missionsArtist's concept of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule prepared for launch.


The important point to note here is that NASA will leverage future lunar missions to train astronauts for life in the deep space over an extended period of time. In addition, the crew will also have abundant opportunity to use the Gateway to practice moving in a spaceship along different orbits.


Both of these feats will come handy in the long run considering that NASA plans on using a more advanced variant of the Gateway spaceship for crewed Mars missions in the future.


Parts of the Gateway are already under construction at several NASA and partner facilities across the US. Up next, the spaceship will be assembled in space in multiple phases using the SLS and the Orion spacecraft. Assistance from commercial launch vehicles will be sought as and when required.


The importance of Artemis from a strategic point of view can be best explained by the following expert from NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine鈥檚 recent conversation with earlier this year:


鈥淪o, we can prove all of the technologies, we can reduce all of the risks, we can try all of the different maturations that are necessary to live and work on another world. And we can do it all at the moon, where, if there is a problem, if there is an emergency, we know that we can get people home.鈥


If everything goes as per plan, the first element overseeing the power and propulsion elements will go live in 2022. The first manned mission will probably happen in 2024, whereas by 2028, Nasa plans on establishing sustainable missions.

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