NASA’s Next Moon Plan: All You Need to Know

NASA Next Moon Plan

Through its Artemis program, NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the Moon in 2024, costing $28 billion

On September 22, NASA revealed its latest plan, Artemis program, to send astronauts to the Moon in 2024. The program plans to send the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface after NASA’s Apollo lunar mission in 1972. 

What is the Artemis program?

“Under the Artemis program, we will explore regions of the Moon never visited before. We will return to the Moon robotically beginning next year, send astronauts to the surface within four years, and build a long term presence on the Moon by the end of the decade,” says NASA. NASA also plans to demonstrate new technologies, capabilities and business approaches that could ultimately be used for the future Mars exploration.

In its rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), NASA will send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft nearly a quarter-million miles from Earth to lunar orbit. Astronauts will dock Orion at the gateway and transfer to a human landing system for expeditions to the surface of the Moon. They will return to the orbital outpost to board Orion again before returning safely to Earth.  

The program has three stages. Artemis I starts sending science instruments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface in an uncrewed flight by early next year. The second stage, Artemis II mission has the first SLS and Orion test flight with the crew. NASA will land astronauts on the Moon’s the South Pole by 2024 on the Artemis III mission.  

As of now, the spacecraft is complete while the core stage and its attached four engines are undergoing a final series of tests that will be completed soon with critical hot-fire tests, after which, the core stage of the rocket will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to integrate it with the spacecraft and launch SLS and Orion together on two test flight around the Moon. 

With the program, the space agency’s aim is to find and use water and other critical resources needed for long-term exploration, investigate the Moon’s mysteries, learn how to live and operate on the surface of another celestial body where astronauts are just three days from home and prove the technologies before sending astronauts on Mars missions to Mars, which could take up to three years roundtrip.

The cost factor

Reaching the moon does not come cheap. Thus from its conception, apart from technical challenges, the plan has faced budgetary challenges. The estimated cost of the project is $28 billion, $16 billion of which would be spent on the lunar landing module. 

This February, President Trump has requested a 12 per cent increase to NASA’s budget for next year to ensure NASA’s moon mission. The US Congress, which faces elections in November will have to sign off on the financing for a project. That said, $28 billion would cover the budgetary years of 2021-25. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that political risks are the biggest obstacle to NASA’s work and if Congress approves the first tranche of $3.2 billion by Christmas, the agency is still on track for a 2024 moon landing.

Manned Moon missions

Between 1968 and 1972, many manned missions to the Moon were conducted by the United States as part of the Apollo program. In December 1968, Nasa launched Apollo 8, which was the first crewed mission to enter the Moon’s orbit. This was followed by Apollo 10 in May 1969. 

First manned spacecraft landed on Moon’s surface on the spacecraft Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, with CommanderNeil Armstrong setting his left foot on the lunar surface, in the area known as the Sea of Tranquility, and famously declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Pilot Buzz Aldrin also landed on the surface after a few minutes. This mission was followed by Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 landing.   

The Soviet Union on the other hand conducted uncrewed missions with rovers that send samples to Earth. Apart from the USA and the USSR, Japan, the European Space Agency, China, India, Luxembourg, and Israel have sent spacecraft to the moon. India also has announced plans for a third lunar mission, Chandrayaan 3 by 2020-21. 

Artemis vs Apollo

Despite being Apollo’s sister in Greek mythology, Artemis is not the next version of Apollo. Artemis is planned as a sustainable program leading to a permanent lunar outpost at the Shackleton Crater on the South Pole of the Moon. While Apollo missions landed at various locations on the near side of the Moon. The Orion space vehicle also has a massive upgrade compared to Apollo’s space vehicle. 

Artemis has the potential to take up to four astronauts, at a time for up to two weeks per mission. If pans out as planned, the programme also could be over 10 times cheaper by human-dollar-per-hour on the surface of the Moon compared to the Apollo program. Artemis will make use of the huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that, once it’s flying, will produce 15 per cent more thrust than Apollo’s rocket Saturn V, at liftoff.

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