NASA also wants to test technologies on the Moon that will continue to develop on Mars. — © AFP/NASA
On September 12, 1962, then US President John F. Kennedy informed the public of his plan to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
It was the height of the Cold War, and America needed a major victory to demonstrate its space dominance after the Soviet Union launched the first satellite and put the first man into orbit.
“We decided to go to the moon,” Kennedy told 40,000 people at Rice University, “because it is a challenge that we are ready to take on, that we do not want to put off, and that we are determined to overcome.”
Sixty years later, the United States is about to launch the first mission of its lunar return program, Artemis. But why repeat what has already been done?
Criticism has intensified in recent years, such as from Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins and Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, who have long advocated America going straight to Mars.
But NASA says re-exploring the moon is a must before flying to the Red Planet. That’s why.
– Deep space flights –
NASA wants to ensure a sustainable human presence on the Moon, and missions last several weeks – compared to several days for Apollo.
Objective: To better understand how to prepare for a multi-year trip around the world to Mars.
In deep space, radiation is much more intense and poses a real threat to health.
The low Earth orbit that the International Space Station (ISS) operates on is partially shielded from radiation by the Earth’s magnetic field, unlike the Moon.
Since the first Artemis mission, many experiments have been planned to study the effects of this radiation on living organisms, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of the anti-radiation vest.
What’s more, while the ISS can often be restocked, missions to the Moon – a thousand times further away – are much more difficult.
In order not to take everything with them and save money, NASA wants to learn how to use the resources present on the surface.
In particular, water in the form of ice, which has been confirmed to exist at the south pole of the moon, can be converted into rocket fuel by splitting it into individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
– Testing new equipment –
NASA also wants to test technologies on the Moon that will continue to be developed on Mars. First, new spacesuits for spacewalks.
Their development was entrusted to Axiom Space for the first mission, which will land on the moon no earlier than 2025.
Other needs: vehicles—both pressurized and non-pressurized—to enable astronauts to move around, and habitats.
Finally, for sustainable access to a source of energy, NASA is working on the creation of portable nuclear fission systems.
Solving any problems that arise will be much easier on the Moon, which is only a few days away, than on Mars, which can be reached in at least a few months.
– Setting waypoint –
One of the main pillars of the Artemis program is the construction of a space station in orbit around the Moon called Gateway, which will serve as a relay before the flight to Mars.
All the necessary equipment could be sent there in “multiple launches” before finally being joined by a crew to go on a long journey, Sean Fuller, who is in charge of the Gateway program, told AFP.
“It’s like you stop at a gas station to make sure you have everything you need and then you hit the road.”
– Maintaining leadership over China –
Apart from Mars, another reason put forward by the Americans for setting up the Moon is to do so ahead of the Chinese, who plan to send taikonauts by 2030.
Today, China is the main rival of the United States as the once proud Russian space program has withered away.
“We don’t want China to suddenly be there and say, ‘This is our exclusive territory,'” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in a recent interview.
– For the sake of science –
While the Apollo missions returned about 400 kilograms of lunar rock to Earth, new samples will further deepen our knowledge of this celestial object and its formation.
“The samples we collected during the Apollo missions have changed our understanding of our solar system,” astronaut Jessica Meir told AFP. “I think we can expect that from the Artemis program as well.”
She also expects further scientific and technological breakthroughs, just like in the age of Apollo.