The Artemis Program: NASA returns to the Moon

The Artemis―a Greek mythological Goddess and the twin sister of Apollo, now personifying NASA’s path to the moon

Neil seems tired after his arduous journey to the moon. He was a consummate test pilot and an engineer had completed his extremely stressful test flights. Since he had spent a couple of days in weightlessness and in low gravity he seems exhausted as well. It was their first post-flight press conference of Apollo 11 landing. Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, moon man Neil Armstrong onboard Apollo 11, became the first man ever to walk on the surface of the moon. He called this historic moment, which was seen by millions of viewers on earth, as “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The Artemis―a Greek mythological Goddess and the twin sister of Apollo, now personifying NASA’s path to the moon

Later, several other missions including Apollo 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 at times. These all were a part of the NASA’s crewed mission to the moon which ended up in 1972. During the last fifty years, several other space agencies have sent successful uncrewed missions to the intriguing natural satellite. These missions have brought back samples of regolith, dirt, and rocks from the surface of the moon and have provided the essential insights into the mysteries of the only companion of the earth in its odyssey through the vast cosmos. These samples tremendously helped scientists to determine the geological properties of the moon, the age of the moon, and various insights into the mysteries of the solar system. Although Apollo missions were the last manned missions, there were other unmanned successful missions to the moon sent by the erstwhile USSR, China, Japan, and India.

On 20th July 2019, the world will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, the ever first manned mission to the moon. After a half-century, NASA is ambitious to take the next giant leap and lead the world once again in exploring the mysteries surrounding our only home in the grand cosmos.

A computer-simulated model of Artemis

In December 2017, US President Donald Trump signed President’s Space Policy Directive-1, which authorized NASA to send astronauts including women, back to the moon. The US administration accelerated the lunar missions by 2024.

This time, a lunar mission will be somewhat different from past Apollo missions of the late 1970s. According to NASA’s officials, “It is intending to stay on the moon and create a sustainable habitat for human explorers and will be implementing President’s Space Policy Directive-1 to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system.”

They further explained that “an entirely new space policy will make it possible for a US-led, integrated program with the coordination of private sector partners for a human to return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond, their mission to the moon will help in paving way for the next giant leap: challenging missions to the moon and other deep-space destinations”.

In anticipation of the crewed lunar mission in 2024, NASA made the Artemis Program that will be beneficial in establishing a sustainable habitat for humans on the moon with reliable, reusable technology demonstrations for missions beyond the moon and safe return to the home.

Photo Credit NASA

The Artemis―a Greek mythological Goddess and the twin sister of Apollo, now personifying NASA’s path to the moon― consists of a Space Launch System (SLS), an Orion Spacecraft and the Gateway.

Space Launch System (SLS) is a modern rocket with the largest and most powerful boosters ever built for flight. It is the only rocket manufactured with the ability to launch heavy cargo shipments along with astronauts on missions to explore deep space.

Gateway, a lunar outpost, will be established in lunar orbit and will “enable access to the entire surface of the moon and provide new opportunities in deep space for exploration” said NASA. Gateway will utilize new technologies based on solar electric propulsion and will help in lunar exploration.

Orion spacecraft, the third component of Artemis, will take astronauts faster and farther than ever. It will dock with the Gateway in orbit around the Moon.

The cornerstone of the Artemis rests on the partnership with private partners and investors to develop and demonstrate new technologies to commercialize space travel and open a new era of space exploration.

NASA has already picked the commercial service providers for the moon landing and has selected twelve science and technology projects which will be used to explore and inhabit the earth’s faithful companion. According to NASA, “they are partnering with nine American companies to send new science and technology instruments and technologies to the Moon ahead of a human return”

According to unveiled details of the mission, through a Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), NASA will deliver several payloads to the moon.  Among these lunar payloads, send prior to the manned missions to the moon, a rover called Moon-Ranger will help to develop 3D maps of the lunar surface. The lightweight autonomous rover will also help to establish long-range communication system for lunar exploration.

Heimdall, a camera system, is another payload which will be sent to study moon’s surface, heat flow, and other properties in detail before the kicking off manned missions. Another onboard instrument, Lunar Environment heliospheric X-ray Imager will capture images of the solar wind. To study electric and magnetic fields of the moon, some components of previously used instruments such as MAVEN will be repurposed.

NASA also made plans to integrate the existing GPS systems with its Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Gateway (which will be orbiting the moon). GPS will provide navigation facilities to help the ground controllers, autonomous rovers and spacecraft in the future moon missions.

“NASA and our partners are returning to the Moon for good,” said Jason Mitchell, chief technologist for Goddard’s Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis Division. “NASA will need navigation capabilities such as this for a sustainable presence at the Moon, and we’re developing enabling technologies to make it happen. We’re using infrastructure that was being built for surface navigation on Earth for applications beyond Earth.”

The new approach under Artemis will not only pave way for human exploration of the moon through innovative reusable technologies but it will also enable astronauts to inhabit the moon in a justifiable way. Consequently, the astronauts will then make use of available resources on the moon to widen the commercial exploration to other planets such as Mars. In the coming decade, several Artemis payloads will be sent to the moon, in the coordination of its private partners, to ensure a longer presence of humankind on our celestial neighbor.


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