For many space nerds, the most exciting “holy grail” achievement on the horizon is a human mission to Mars—the prospect of watching people set foot on Martian regolith is beyond thrilling, and the iconic moment will certainly usher in a new era of space exploration. But, as with all ultra-complex endeavors, there will be many small steps that make up the long journey, and that’s where NASA et al.’s Artemis program and its forthcoming missions to the Moon come in. Check out NASA’s latest illustrated video describing the Artemis program for a better sense of how it will send astronauts to the Moon, as well as help humanity make the leap to the Red Planet.
NASA’s illustrated video outlining its Artemis program.
The video was recently posted by NASA to its various social media accounts, with the space agency noting that the Artemis program will “[open] the door for humanity to sustainably work and live on another world for the first time,” and utilize the Moon as “a proving ground for living on Mars.” To match the majesty of the mission, NASA called on Kelly Marie Tran, a.k.a. Rose Tico from the latest Star Wars films, to narrate the short, and also chose an illustration theme that hearkens back to its “Visions of the Future” posters.
What happened this year at NASA?
— NASA (@NASA) December 23, 2019
In the brief explainer, NASA notes that the Artemis program is a return to sending humans to the Moon for the first time since 1972, the year in which the Apollo program sent the last astronauts to the lunar surface. To that end, NASA says that Artemis is the beginning of the “next chapter of lunar exploration,” and will employ a rocket that will be more powerful than the “legendary Saturn V” that was used for the Apollo program. Speaking of which, that more powerful rocket, dubbed SLS (Space Launch System), will weigh a mind-boggling 6 million pounds—or about 461 African bush elephants—and will be capable of inserting the Orion crew module (the space craft carrying the astronauts) into orbit around Earth.
There will, of course, be many other differences between the Artemis program and Apollo, with the former calling for a series of exciting new strategies and technologies. For example, the video points out that Artemis will begin, in part, with “pre-staging” on the Moon that will include sending rovers, science experiments, and human-support systems to the lunar surface before astronauts arrive. On top of that, Artemis will put what seems to be a smaller version of the International Space Station (ISS) into orbit around the Moon (dubbed Gateway), that will serve as a midway docking point for lunar landers headed back to Earth.
The SLS core stage that will help to launch the Orion crew capsule into orbit around Earth. Jared Lyons
What’s perhaps most exciting about the Artemis program, aside from sending humans back to the Moon for the first time, is the desired goal of establishing the necessary underpinnings for a Moon base. And while there aren’t many details provided by the Artemis program wiki, nor the video above, it is made clear that the goal is to have the Moon base underway by 2028.
The NASA astronaut candidates that may serve on the Artemis Moon missions. NASA
The ambitious goal for the team behind Artemis is to land the first woman, and next man, on the Moon by 2024, and subsequently send multiple human missions to the lunar surface between then and 2028. It should be noted that, in the meantime, SpaceX is also working on a similar series of missions focused on building a lunar base, as well as sending people to Mars, with the private company setting similar, or even more aggressive, timelines for its goals—SpaceX wants to land its Starship on the Moon by 2022 and begin a Martian colony sometime within the next seven to nine years. On top of that, SpaceX’s Starship will also be reusable, as opposed to SLS, which will require a whole new rocket for each launch.
What do you think about this illustrated video describing the forthcoming Artemis Moon missions? Are you psyched to see the monstrous SLS come to life, or do you think SpaceX’s Starship is where it’s at? Launch your opinions in the comments!