The new race to the moon has begun

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The logo of the Artemis program. Credits: NASA.

The Apollo program NASA has been an extraordinary undertaking that has inspired entire generations of young people. It provoked a scientific and technological revolution and fueled humanity’s passion for the exploration and discovery of space. While we are still celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing, NASA is preparing to impress this and the next generations with another program aimed at the Moon: Artemis.

The new NASA program is named after Apollo’s twin sister, Artemis, the goddess of hunting and archery, sometimes identified as the moon goddess. She is also recognized as the goddess of female initiations, and the program that bears her name will lead the first woman (and the next man) to walk on the surface of our satellite, in a place where no human being has ever been before: the South Pole of the moon.

In July, the government agency officially presented the mission logo, which recalls its identity by enclosing many meanings: the “A” symbolizes the point of an arrow of Artemis’ quiver and represents the launch. The tip of the A, facing beyond the Moon, indicates that efforts to reach the Moon are not the conclusion of the path, but rather the preparation for everything beyond. The horizontal crescent, at the bottom, represents the Earth and missions from the point of view of humanity: we start from Earth, return to Earth and everything we learn and develop will be for the benefit of the Earth. This crescent also represents the arch of Artemis, as the source from which all the energies and efforts to reach the goal come. The trajectory moves from left to right, through the A, and is curiously opposite to that of the Apollo program logo, thus highlighting the differences of the return to the moon. The trajectory is red to symbolize a path facing Mars. The silver Moon, on the right, is the next destination and a launching pad for Mars, at the center of all Artemis’ efforts.

The lunar plan is based on a two-step approach: the first will be focused on speed and plans to land on the moon within five years, then in 2024; the second aims to establish a human presence on the Moon, and around it, by 2028.

The Orion service module for the Artemis 1 mission completed acoustic tests inside the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in May. The tests were the last step in preparing the capsule for the first unmanned flight test on the Space Launch System. Credits: NASA

The capsule destined to bring astronauts to the moon is called Orion and will be able to dock on a small space station in orbit around the Moon, the Lunar Gateway. At about 400 thousand km from Earth, the Gateway will allow access to the entire surface of the Moon and will offer new opportunities for the exploration of deep space. For example, future missions to Mars could start from the Gateway.

The Orion capsule, made by Lockheed Martin, will carry up to six people and was designed to support astronauts traveling hundreds of thousands of kilometers from home, where returning to Earth will take days instead of hours. Both distance and durability require Orion to have systems that can operate reliably away from home and be able to keep astronauts alive in an emergency.

As for the carrier rocket, it will be Space Launch System (Sls) to bring astronauts into space, a non-reusable launch system derived from Space Shuttle, whose construction has been entrusted to Boeing and whose development is supported by over a thousand companies from all over the United States and all NASA centers. It offers more useful mass, volume capacity and energy to speed up missions in space than any other rocket. Currently, it is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts and large loads to the Moon in one mission.

Illustration of the Space Launch System on the Kennedy Space Center launch pad. Credits: NASA

NASA will launch Orion from a launch base to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. During the first integrated mission – Artemis 1 (formerly known as Exploration Mission-1), whose launch is scheduled for 2020 – the unmanned Orion capsule will enter orbit around the Moon and then return to Earth. Artemis 2 expected to carry, in 2022, a human crew in orbit around the Moon. By the end of the same year, the first elements of the Gateway will be launched into space using a private rocket and will serve as a demonstrator for an entire year. In 2023 a small cabin will be launched, using a private rocket, which will be docked to the module launched the previous year, and where the first astronauts will be transferred from the Orion capsule. It will be from this pressurized cabin that astronauts will prepare for expedition to the lunar South Pole. In 2024 the human landing system (Human Landing System), in various step: the various parts will gather together in a lunar orbit and will dock at the Gateway going to form a single unit, ready to bring astronauts to the lunar surface. Artemis 3 in 2024 it will be the mission destined for the moon landing: SLS will send Orion and his crew in lunar orbit, where he will dock at the Gateway. The crew will check the Gateway cabin and the Hls before boarding the lander to go down to the moon. By 2028, the Gateway is expected to grow with the contribution of the space agencies of Canada, Europe, Russia and Japan and the lunar shuttle will become reusable for various trips, making it possible to install a base on the surface.

Donald Trump’s tweet concerning the increase in appropriation made to NASA in May

In May, the president Donald Trump increased NASA’s budget by $ 1.6 billion, as reported in his tweet beside. The NASA administrator, James Bridenstinelast July 17, during a Senate commission, he said that an estimate of the costs of bringing man to the moon by 2024 will probably not be ready until the administration submits a budget request, next February.

By managing to land in 2024, the United States would be ahead of the China, main competitor in the new race to the moon, which set itself the goal of setting up a moon base, populated by its astronautsin 2030. India will also not stand by, having launched its second lunar mission in July, Chandrayaan-2, with a landing on the South Pole scheduled for early September. Finally, the Japanese private company ispace, will send a lander on the Moon in 2021, with payload of his customers, and in 2023 he will make a rover for the exploration of the surface. Unlike NASA and China, the missions of India and Japan will be unmanned.

To achieve the 2024 target, Trump will also use private space agencies, such as the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) of Elon Musk and the Blue Origin of Jeff Bezos.

Also in May, NASA awarded its first lunar mission contracts: $ 375 million a Maxar Technologies Inc. of Westminster, Colorado, to develop the Gateway engine, the cornerstone of the architecture of the Artemis program. The agency has approved over $ 150 million for specific unmanned landing activities. Astrobotic Technology Inc. Pittsburgh won a $ 79.5 million contract to fly i payload to Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon, e Intuitive Machines Houston received $ 77 million to transport payloads to Oceanus Procellarum, a scientifically fascinating lunar sea on the visible side of the Moon. Both will land by July 2021.

Artistic representation of a spacecraft in the ascent phase, while separating from the descent one, which leaves the lunar surface. Credits: NASA

On August 16, Bridenstine announced – at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the research center where the rocket was developed Saturn V dall ‘team of Wernher von Braun – the role of the center in guiding the development program Human Landing System. With decades of experience in the integration of propulsion systems and technological development, Marshall engineers will work with American companies to rapidly develop, integrate and demonstrate the functionality of a human lunar landing system that can be launched on the Gateway, collect astronauts and transport them between the Gateway itself and the surface of the Moon. The Johnson Space Center of NASA in Houston, which manages NASA’s major human spaceflight programs including Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew is International Space Station, will oversee all aspects related to the preparation of lander and astronauts. In addition, it will manage all Artemis missions, starting with the now upcoming Artemis 1.

The Moon is a treasure chest of science: the lunar samples returned during the Apollo program have radically changed our vision of the Solar System. The poles of the Moon are believed to contain millions of tons of water ice, which has a lot of potential in it: the more humans venture into space, the more important it will become to manufacture materials and products using local resources. We know that the Moon has much more to tell us, on our planet and even on the Sun. There is still a lot to learn, thanks to the Moon, and this knowledge can be more easily acquired with a human presence, as well as robotics, on our satellite .

Artistic representation of a lunar lander from the Artemis program. Credits: NASA

Exploration is in the DNA of our species: the desire to discover and inhabit distant worlds, both across the Earth’s oceans and in the vast regions of space. But it is also fundamental for the continuation of our species: humanity must build a path for an existence independent of Earth. The exploration of the Moon and Mars intertwine. The Moon will be a test bench for Mars, offering the opportunity to demonstrate new technologies that could help build self-sufficient outposts outside Earth. Working with U.S. companies e partner international, with Artemis NASA will push the boundaries of human exploration towards the Moon and contribute to the next revolution, which will take place in space: a space economy built on mining, tourism and scientific research that will feed and strengthen future generations .

In addition to all this, for radio astronomers the new race to the Moon could open up new possibilities for studying the universe, he explains to Media Inaf Nichi D’Amico, president of the National Institute of Astrophysics: “The complementarity of observations of the universe from the ground and from the space that characterizes modern astronomy could benefit precisely from the construction of an equipped base on the Moon. An example of the impact of this initiative on our knowledge of the deep universe could be, for example, the installation of radio telescopes on the hidden face of the Moon. Yes, because unfortunately radio astronomers ourselves, who have developed formidable techniques for observing the radio wave universe, have also invented and patented Wi-Fi, a formidable communication tool that today, however, sees our planet populated by radio links that afflict radio astronomical observations from the ground. A radio telescope on the hidden face of the Moon would be shielded from the electromagnetic noise we generate on Earth, and could make unprecedented broadband observations of the universe. ”

To find out more about Artemis, visit the dedicated site of NASA and watch the video service on MediaInaf Tv:

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