The last time humans stepped on the moon was in 1972 as part of the Apollo 17 mission, and on the 50th anniversary, we go back to the moon (though un-crewed at first).
But why did we stop going to the moon? The 1970’s was an era of excitement, moon landings and the space race. Space enthusiasts expected Apollo to be the beginning of an era in which humans would move out into space, visit space stations and land on Mars. Socioeconomic realities derailed public and political enthusiasm, the problems on Earth seemed too great to justify the spend in space. Forward 50 years and our closest planetary neighbour has suddenly regained popular interest sparked by the lower cost to launch and the thousands of public and private companies interested in harnessing its unique vantage point. The moon provides an ideal steppingstone to the wider solar system. An important part of this is the ice found at the lunar south pole, which could be processed both to support long term human life, but also used as propellent for further missions to other planets & into our galaxy.
Artemis 1 makes part of a larger ambition to bring humanity back to the moon, and this time, provide a sustained presence. Each of the upcoming Artemis mission has its own unique set of goals, that will contribute to this larger ambition. The 2 key pieces of infrastructure required are the Lunar Gateway, and habitation structures on the lunar surface, which will take many missions to progressively build out. However, these will provide the bedrock for human operations on the lunar surface and in lunar orbit.
Over the next 5 years, we’re expecting the following 5 missions:
Artemis 1 (November 2022) will lead the way for the following Artemis missions, proving that the SLS & Orion Capsule can safely take the crew to lunar orbit and back to earth. However, Artemis 1 will remain un-crewed, the purpose of the mission being purely to validate all vehicle systems, in preparation for the manned missions.
Artemis 2 (2024) is the first of manned Artemis missions. Orion will complete a trajectory around the moon, however, no lunar landing attempt made. The mission will provide the crew of 4 the opportunity to make observations of the lunar surface, before returning to earth.
Artemis 3 (2025) will be the first time humans sets foot on the moon since Apollo 17. 2 of the 4 crew members aboard Artemis 3 will descend and land on the moons surface using SpaceX’s Starship HLS (Human Landing System), and spend approximately one week at the lunar south pole.
Though plans to utilise the Lunar Gateway were initially intended for Artemis 3, Orien & Starship HLS will now no longer use the Gateway as a resting point before their lunar landing attempt. Instead, the Lunar Gateway construction will commence in 2024, with the first modules launched using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 heavy.
Artemis 4 (2026) Will be a further crewed flight without a landing attempt made. This flight will seek to deliver the International Habitation Module (I-HAB) to the Lunar Gateway. Nasa will transition from SLS Block1, to SLS Block 1B, a variant of the SLS providing a more powerful upper stage (named the EUS – Exploration Upper Stage). This will be the primary upper stage used going forward through the Artemis programme, allowing expanded SLS payload capability.
Artemis 5 (2027) Will deliver the ESPRIT (European System Providing Refuelling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications) to the Lunar Gateway, a 4 tonne module providing an additional airlock, communications, additional refuelling capacity, and additional habitation space.
Artemis 5 will also see the 2nd manned landing on the lunar surface, where once again, 2 of the 4 crew will descend to the lunar surface with SpaceX’s HLS.
The missions following Artemis 5 will continue to expand the Lunar Gateway, will bring NASAs new Lunar Terrain Vehicle to the lunar surface, and will land habitats on the lunar surface for longer duration lunar exploration.
This is an exciting step forward for humanity, by establishing a presence on the moon again we will enhance life on Earth giving us a potential platform to greater explore our own solar system and beyond. An exciting new era, the Artemis era.
Watch the Launch: