After half a decade of waiting, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) decided that it’s time for America to step on the Moon once again.
During the Apollo Era, 53 years ago, NASA’s Project Apollo successfully landed 12 men on the Moon. NASA’s next project, Artemis, is going to be the next chapter of space exploration. Project Artemis — Artemis in Greek mythology is Apollo’s twin sister — is planning to launch more people to the Moon, including the first woman. Artemis’ goal is not only to go to the Moon but to stay there and prepare for more deep-space exploration. Contrastingly, the Apollo missions landed on the Moon with only brief periods of time to explore. We need to learn to go on missions of greater distance and duration to prepare for longer missions, such as going to Mars, and to do this, we must use the resources we find at our destination.
The launch director of this operation, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, who is NASA’s first female launch director, says that 30 percent of the engineers in the firing room of the operation will be women.
In 2009, it was discovered that the Moon’s South Pole contains millions of tons of ice, and one thing Artemis will be doing is separating the ice into oxygen or hydrogen for rocket fuel. Additionally, the ice can be purified for water. Using 27 billion dollars, NASA has created a new rocket and space capsule to accomplish these goals.
Orion is the name of the next-generation human space capsule that will be taking a ride to the Moon. Orion has three components: the crew module, the service module, and the launch abort system. The crew module will be able to house four astronauts, where they will remain during flight. The service module is where the life-support systems are, in addition to the capsule’s fuel and engine. The abort system will be there in case anything goes wrong and the astronauts need to abort the rocket.
The rocket that will carry Orion is called the Space Launch System (SLS). This new rocket is 15 percent stronger than the Saturn 5 rocket, which was used for the Apollo mission and was at the time the most powerful in the world. Fully loaded, the SLS weighs 6 million pounds, 5.2 million of which are composed of fuel alone. The core stage will consist of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel with over eight million pounds of thrust at liftoff. The SLS comprises a cargo hold, an exploration upper stage, a massive core and stage, and two extended solid rocket boosters.
NASA will have a different approach this time when landing on the Moon because it will have a space station orbiting the Moon called Gateway. Gateway will have the ability to move between orbits, taking advantage of the Earth and Moon’s gravity to balance in an ideal position for space missions. Gateway will also adjust its orbit to allow access to every part of the Moon, something the Apollo mission couldn’t do. NASA plans on collaborating with SpaceX to launch the components required to build Gateway through Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy rockets.
Despite these elaborate and well-thought out plans, everything is not going smoothly due to a split of opinion between the government and NASA. Former President Donald Trump set 2024 as the goal to have people reside on the Moon, but it was quickly dismissed and seen as unrealistic. President Joe Biden hasn’t yet set a date, but he has approved Artemis.
Lori Garver, who was the number two official at NASA during much of the Obama administration, believes that NASA is taking the wrong approach. She thinks that spending 27 billion dollars on a rocket is absurd when the private sector can build rockets nearly as large for a fraction of the price, and with no cost to taxpayers.
Garver was one of the first to support the idea of developing rockets in private companies like SpaceX, since it would be financially better and faster. Garver also states that NASA wasn’t able to develop the rocket with the private sector because the US Senate wanted to extend the contract and jobs in their districts. The Senate came to NASA and told the organization that it didn’t like NASA’s plan, forcing NASA to build the rocket the Senate’s preferred way. Because of this, the space launch system is jokingly referred to as the Senate launch system. If NASA had built the rocket with the private sector, the rocket would have been built with half the price and in half the time.
Garver said in an interview with 60 Minutes, “It’s ironic, honestly, that NASA, the very symbol of a democratic and capitalist society, has done a lot of its human spaceflight programs in more of a socialist way.”
In my opinion, politicians should not dictate how NASA accomplishes its missions, because politicians have different goals than NASA, such as selfishly wanting to extend contracts and jobs in their own districts. As a result, they have gotten in the way of NASA, causing a massive delay and extra expense.
Currently, there is no exact date for when Artemis will be sending people to the Moon, but it is predicted to happen between 2024 and 2030.