The first human mission to land on the moon in some 50 years is now planned from 2025and would be the first crewed lunar landing since the last of the Apollo missions in 1972. NASA has vowed to bring humans back to the lunar surface – a bold plan born under the Trump administration that has been embraced by White House Biden.
While he suffered some setbacks and delays, the program is the first human deep space exploration program since Apollo to survive subsequent administrations. But unlike Apollo, Artemis is designed to create a permanent presence on and around the moon. And NASA has moved forward with a sense of urgency as China also aims to send astronauts to the moon.
During a Friday briefing, NASA officials said they chose the landing sites using data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter – a robotic spacecraft that has been mapping the lunar surface since 2009 – as well as other studies from the moon.
“The selection of these regions means that we are one giant step closer to returning humans to the Moon for the first time since Apollo,” said Mark Kirasich, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for the Development Division of NASA. Artemis campaign, in a statement. “When we do, it will be unlike any previous mission as astronauts venture into dark realms previously unexplored by humans and lay the groundwork for future long-term sojourns.”
NASA had already announced that it would return to the lunar south pole. But the specific sites, all within a six-degree band of latitude from the South Pole, were chosen, NASA said, because they provide safe landing spots close enough to permanently shaded regions to allow the crew to moonwalk there as part of their six-and-a-half-day stay on the moon.
This, NASA said, would allow astronauts “to collect samples and conduct scientific analyzes in an area without compromise, providing important information about the depth, distribution and composition of water ice that have been confirmed. at the south pole of the moon.
Water is important for sustaining human life, but also because its components – hydrogen and oxygen – can be used for rocket propellant.
The Apollo missions have traveled to the equatorial regions of the moon, where there are long periods of daylight – up to two weeks at a time. The South Pole, on the other hand, can only have a few days of light, which makes missions more difficult and limits NASA’s launch windows.
“It’s a long way from the Apollo sites,” said Sarah Noble, Artemis’ lunar science manager. “Now we are going to a completely different place.”
The announcement comes as NASA prepares for the first of its Artemis missions, now scheduled for August 29. The flight, known as Artemis I, would mark the first launch of NASA’s massive Space Launch System rocket that would send the Orion crew capsule, without any astronauts on board, into orbit around the moon to a 42-day mission.
Earlier this week, the space agency rolled up the rocket and spacecraft to pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and officials say everything remains on track for a two-hour launch window that opens at 8:33 a.m. NASA has reserved backup launch dates for September 2 and 5 in the event of a delay.
One of the main purposes of the flight is to test Orion’s heat shield, said Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager. The heat shield is intended to protect Orion and his future crew from the extreme temperatures he will encounter as he enters Earth’s atmosphere at 24,500 mph, or Mach 32.
The mission would be followed by a flight with four astronauts who would orbit the moon, but not land there, as early as 2024. A human landing, the first since the last of the Apollo missions in 1972, is now tentatively scheduled for 2025.
This mission depends on a number of factors, including the development of SpaceX’s Starship rocket and a spacecraft, which would meet Orion in lunar orbit, then ferry astronauts to and from the moon’s surface.
“I feel like we’re on a roller coaster that’s about to go over the top of the biggest hill,” Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s chief exploration scientist, told reporters on Friday. “Buckle up, everyone, we’re going for a ride on the moon.