Why do we go back to the Moon?

The end of summer is announced and with it the beginning of a new stage in the exploration of the Solar System. NASA, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, among others, initiates the Artemis program with the launch (postponed until at least September 2) of the first mission. What does it consist of and what implications will it have in the coming years and in the more distant future?

The Artemis program consists of the Orion capsule, the ship that will carry the astronauts, and a new launcher, the “Space Launch System” (SLS), which drives that one. In addition, it includes theEuropean Service Module” (ESM), which provides Orion with water, power and propulsion, and is therefore indispensable to the mission. The initial goal of Artemis is to send humans to the Moon after more than 50 years since the last landing, which occurred in 1972.

The mission rocket: SLS

The SLS launcher is the most powerful vehicle ever developed by NASA. It has a power that is 15% higher than the mythical Saturn V rockets, which sent the astronauts of the Apollo program to the Moon in the 60s and 70s. Its development has been plagued by multiple problems, delays and huge cost overruns, but after its maiden voyage the rocket is destined to become a major player in human space exploration for decades to come.

The Orion spacecraft has a capacity for six astronauts.

Regarding the Orion capsule, on this trip it will not be manned but it will contain three mannequins that will serve as a testing laboratory for the effects that the astronauts will have to endure on the next trip. In any case, it is designed to carry up to six astronauts. In addition, it will be shown that the ship's heat shield resists violent and rapid re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

The third relevant element is the ESM, developed by Airbus for the European Space Agency. Its function is multiple: the propulsion of Orion away from Earth, along with the generation of energy, air and water. Therefore, it is an essential element for the habitability of the ship.

Artemis I will go around our satellite and test technologies and procedures. Her return is scheduled to be on October 10, when she will splash down in the Pacific.

NASA and the other government agencies have a tentative schedule for the following missions. Thus, Artemis II will carry four astronauts in 2024, but it will not land on the Moon either. This will not happen until a year later, at the earliest: the trip of Artemis III will make possible a new lunar landing, whose crew will include the first woman and the first non-Caucasian person in history whose footprints will remain in the regolith like those of Neil Armstrong in 1969. The next one will have as gateway destinationa complex similar to the International Space Station, although located near the Moon, which will serve as a transit station, but not before 2027. In any case, NASA has planned launches until Artemis XI.

The Moon, a song of sirens?

Our satellite can be considered an excellent research platform. It contains geological records about its formation and therefore about the violent evolution of our own planet. It also has the potential to host a wide variety of scientific instrumentation, such as gigantic radio telescopes.

But it could also be, in principle, exploited both to extract an isotope of helium, essential for thermonuclear fusion (that is, as fuel for future nuclear power plants, now under development), as a bridge for missions to mars and to nearby asteroids, which contain a huge amount of strategic minerals.

However, the viability and profitability of commercial exploitation have yet to be demonstrated and legal obstacles overcome. The international deals are exhaustive: space belongs to all humanity and no country can claim ownership of any celestial body.

Korea, India and Israel join the trip to the Moon

Be that as it may, the US and other Western nations are not the only ones participating in this new space epic. Various countries, including Korea, India and Israel, have launched missions to our satellite with varying success and compete in this new geostrategic career.

China has an ambitious program with its Chang'e probes that has already managed to send samples back to Earth, and has declared its intention to build an inhabited station at the South Pole, where there are sufficient amounts of water, in the next decade. Russia, after the announcement of ceasing to be a partner of the International Space Station, intends to expand its own space program. Furthermore, the role of large corporations and the private sector is still unresolved.

Therefore, the possibility of returning to the Moon and using it as an intermediate station to other solar system bodies it is already a reality.

Humanity has two paths: a "cold war" in space, where the interests of nations or blocs dominate, or the path of international cooperation, open to all, but where knowledge and the benefit of human beings prevail. . Now is the time to decide which way to go.

This article comes from The Conversation. Read the original here.

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