Artemis, America’s lunar return program, is one of NASA’s top priorities for many years to come. Its name was chosen as an echo of the Apollo program, having carried the only 12 men ever to walk on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. In Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister (Apollo in English editor’s note) and a goddess associated with the Moon.
The first mission is due to take off on Monday, and the ambition is to send the first woman and the first non-white person on the lunar surface during the following. Here’s a rundown of these missions of increasing difficulty, up to the ultimate goal: allowing humans to travel to Mars.
Artemis 1: test flight
The Artemis 1 mission is to dismantle NASA’s giant new rocket, called SLS, and the Orion capsule on top of it, to ensure they can carry astronauts safely in the future. Orion will orbit the Moon before returning to Earth.
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Artemis 2: first crew
Scheduled for 2024, Artemis 2 will take astronauts to the Moon, but without landing there, as Apollo 8 did in 1968.
The composition of the crew must be announced before the end of the year. We already know that a Canadian will be a part of it, making him the first Canadian citizen to go into deep space.
Artemis 3: Moon Landing
This third mission can be compared to Apollo 11: it will be the first in the program to land astronauts on the Moon.
They will arrive for the first time at the South Pole of the Moon, where the presence of water in the form of ice has been confirmed, and not near the equator as during Apollo. Artemis 3 is officially scheduled for 2025, but according to an independent public audit, it should actually take place in 2026 “as quickly as possible”.
From’Artemis 3, NASA wants to launch about one mission per year.
NASA has chosen SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, to build the landerArtemis 3. Concretely, this lander will shuttle between the Orion capsule and the lunar surface: once in orbit around the Moon, the capsule will dock with the craft, sent separately upstream, which will then be responsible for lowering the astronauts to the surface and then bringing them back up. It is then aboard the Orion that they will return to Earth.
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This lander will be a version of the Starship spacecraft, which has so far only performed suborbital tests. To reach Earth orbit, it must be powered by the Super Heavy first stage rocket, also under development.
And before it can get to the Moon, it will have to refuel by refueling directly in space from another spacecraft that was previously loaded with fuel—an extremely dangerous transfer that has never been tested before. For the rest of the program ArtemisNASA has launched a new tender with other companies for the development of additional landers.
Gateway space station
The program Artemis also includes the construction of a station in orbit around the Moon, called Gateway. The launch of the first two elements – a habitation module and the propulsion system – is planned for the end of 2024 at the earliest with a Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX.
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The following modules will be launched by SLS at the same time as Orion and its crew, responsible for collecting them at their destination. The astronauts will stay there between 30 and 60 days. Eventually, a lander will be docked there to allow them to descend to the Moon from the station.
Gateway will also serve as a stopover before future journeys to Mars.
The ultimate goal: Mars
Paradoxically, the star is really at the heart of the show Artemis is not the Moon, but Mars. NASA will test the technologies needed to send the first humans to the red planet: new suits, vehicle to get around, mini power plant, use of lunar water…
The creation of a base on the surface of the Moon is foreseen. The idea is to learn how to establish a permanent human presence in deep space – but not too much before trying the experiment on Mars. Because in case of a problem, the Moon is only a few days away. March, at least several months.
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