Artemis – Humans return to the Moon

September 13, 2023

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It has been half a century since humans last walked on the Moon. But – in as little as three years’ time – NASA’s Artemis programme plans to return us there. Working in partnership with the European, Japanese and Canadian Space Agencies, the programme’s long-term aim is to establish a permanent base on the Moon and – ultimately – to set the groundwork for human missions to Mars.

In this blog we’ll explore the Artemis programme, in particular Artemis I, and understand more about what the coming years will look like.

The Space Launch System (SLS)

On 16 November 2022, Artemis I launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – hitting headlines around the world. This was the culmination of decades of work and technological development – much of which started during NASA’s earlier Constellation programme.

Prior to Artemis I, NASA had been developing a new rocket for over a decade – building on the technology used to launch Space Shuttles. This resulted in the Space Launch System (SLS), which can carry the heaviest payload of any rocket currently in operational service.

The Orion spacecraft

Similarly, the Orion spacecraft – which sits on top of the SLS and will carry the astronauts all the way to the Moon – can trace its history back to the Constellation programme. It is made up of two parts – the Crew Module (which provides the habitat for the crew) and the European Service Module (which provides the in-space propulsion, water, oxygen and electrical power).

Blazing a trail

Artemis I is trailblazing in lots of ways. It saw the first attempt to launch the SLS rocket together with the Orion spacecraft. It’s carrying three state of the art, astronaut-like mannequins to record the kinds of acceleration and vibration stresses that will come when humans fly to the Moon. It will test the radiation exposure that future astronauts will experience. And it will be the first real test of the Orion spacecraft’s re-entry heat shields.

All of these firsts take place during a 25-day mission where the Orion spacecraft will fly by the Moon twice – coming within approximately 62 miles of the lunar surface, and travelling 280,000 miles from the Earth. The science will have only just begun once Artemis I splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. Attention will inevitably then turn to the first human-crewed mission – Artemis II – which is currently planned for launch in 2024.

Future Artemis missions

Artemis II will see humans fly by the Moon for the first time in over 50 years. Artemis III – scheduled for launch in 2024-5 – will see two astronauts spending a week on the lunar surface, the first such landing since Apollo 17 in 1972. And Artemis missions further in the future will see major developments of the lunar Gateway – a space station in orbit around the Moon – to facilitate future landings. In short, there is an exciting and challenging programme of work which will take us well into the next decade.

Mission Astro

If you want to hear more about the future of the Artemis programme then why not listen to Mission Astro’s interview with Dr Natasha Almeida of the Natural History Museum? You’ll hear more about the colossal effort that’s being put into the Artemis missions – including mapping landing sites, exciting science on the origin of water in our Solar System and the many new technologies being developed.

This is just one of many in-depth expert interviews you can access as part of Mission Astro. Sign up today – we’ll take you on an exciting ride through the cosmos and you’re sure to learn a lot along the way!

We even have a free taster session on supermassive black holes and the stars that fall into them! If you have any questions, please email course leader, Dr Sarah Crick, at [email protected]
Dr Sarah Crick also offers bespoke tuition and master classes, so if you have a burning question about astrophysics, then get in touch!

Take me to the FREE taster session for Mission Astro!

Dr Sarah Crick
Dr Sarah Crick
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