The real reasons for Americans to return to the Moon

Credits: NASA

 

In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy set a goal for America: to send astronauts to the Moon by the decade’s end.

“We choose to go to the Moon (…) not because it is easy, but because it is hard,” he said at the time, amid the Cold War, during a seminal speech at Rice University in Texas. Sixty years later, the United States is about to launch the first mission of its moon return program, Artemis. But why repeat what has already been accomplished?

There has been criticism in recent years, for example from Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who accused NASA of not thinking big enough by not aiming directly at Mars. But for the US space agency, the Moon is a necessary step before a trip to the Red Planet. Here are his main arguments:

NASA wants to develop a lasting human presence on the Moon, with missions lasting several weeks – as opposed to just a few days for Apollo. The aim: to better understand how to prepare for a multi-year return trip to Mars. In deep space, space radiation is much more intense and poses a real threat to health. Low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) operates, is partly protected by the Earth’s magnetic field, which is not the case on the Moon.

As of the first Artemis mission, numerous experiments are planned to study the impact of this radiation on living organisms or to evaluate the effectiveness of an anti-radiation jacket.

Moreover, while the ISS can often be resupplied, travel to the Moon (located 1,000 times further away) is much more complex. To avoid having to transport everything, and thus reduce costs, NASA wants to learn how to use the resources present on the surface. In particular, water in the form of ice, which has been confirmed to exist on the Moon’s South Pole, could be transformed into fuel (water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen, used by rockets).

NASA also wants to test technologies on the Moon that will enable it to evolve on Mars. Firstly, new spacesuits for spacewalking. Their design has been entrusted to the company Axiom Space for the first mission to land on the Moon, in 2025 at the earliest.

Other needs to include vehicles (pressurized or not) for astronauts to move around, as well as housing. Finally, for sustainable access to an energy source, NASA is working on the development of portable nuclear fission systems. Solving any problems that may arise will be much easier on the Moon, which is only a few days away, than on Mars, which can only be reached in at least several months.

Step on the road to Mars

Another part of the Artemis program is constructing a space station in orbit around the Moon called the Gateway, which will serve as a staging post before the journey to Mars. All the necessary equipment can be sent there in “several launches”, before finally being joined by the crew to set off, explains Sean Fuller, head of the Gateway program. It’s a bit like “going to the petrol station to check you’ve got everything”.

Apart from Mars, another reason given by the Americans for settling on the Moon is to do so… before the Chinese. While in the 1960s the space race raged between the United States and Russia, the big competitor today is Beijing. China plans to send humans to the moon by 2030. “We don’t want China to go there and say, ‘this is our territory’,” NASA boss Bill Nelson said on television in late August.

Lastly, even though the Apollo missions brought back nearly 400 kilograms of lunar rock to Earth, new samples will help deepen our knowledge of the planet and its formation. “The samples collected during Apollo changed our vision of the solar system,” said astronaut Jessica Meir. “And that will continue with Artemis.”

Thanks to the investment and scientific enthusiasm generated by these new missions, she also anticipates concrete spin-offs on Earth (technologies, engineering, etc.), just like in the Apollo era.

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image - 2022-09-11T170015.561

The real reasons for Americans to return to the Moon

Credits: NASA
 
In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy set a goal for America: to send astronauts to the Moon by the decade's end. "We choose to go to the Moon (...) not because it is easy, but because it is hard," he said at the time, amid the Cold War, during a seminal speech at Rice University in Texas. Sixty years later, the United States is about to launch the first mission of its moon return program, Artemis. But why repeat what has already been accomplished? There has been criticism in recent years, for example from Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who accused NASA of not thinking big enough by not aiming directly at Mars. But for the US space agency, the Moon is a necessary step before a trip to the Red Planet. Here are his main arguments: NASA wants to develop a lasting human presence on the Moon, with missions lasting several weeks - as opposed to just a few days for Apollo. The aim: to better understand how to prepare for a multi-year return trip to Mars. In deep space, space radiation is much more intense and poses a real threat to health. Low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) operates, is partly protected by the Earth's magnetic field, which is not the case on the Moon. As of the first Artemis mission, numerous experiments are planned to study the impact of this radiation on living organisms or to evaluate the effectiveness of an anti-radiation jacket. Moreover, while the ISS can often be resupplied, travel to the Moon (located 1,000 times further away) is much more complex. To avoid having to transport everything, and thus reduce costs, NASA wants to learn how to use the resources present on the surface. In particular, water in the form of ice, which has been confirmed to exist on the Moon's South Pole, could be transformed into fuel (water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen, used by rockets). NASA also wants to test technologies on the Moon that will enable it to evolve on Mars. Firstly, new spacesuits for spacewalking. Their design has been entrusted to the company Axiom Space for the first mission to land on the Moon, in 2025 at the earliest. Other needs to include vehicles (pressurized or not) for astronauts to move around, as well as housing. Finally, for sustainable access to an energy source, NASA is working on the development of portable nuclear fission systems. Solving any problems that may arise will be much easier on the Moon, which is only a few days away, than on Mars, which can only be reached in at least several months. Step on the road to Mars Another part of the Artemis program is constructing a space station in orbit around the Moon called the Gateway, which will serve as a staging post before the journey to Mars. All the necessary equipment can be sent there in "several launches", before finally being joined by the crew to set off, explains Sean Fuller, head of the Gateway program. It's a bit like "going to the petrol station to check you've got everything". Apart from Mars, another reason given by the Americans for settling on the Moon is to do so... before the Chinese. While in the 1960s the space race raged between the United States and Russia, the big competitor today is Beijing. China plans to send humans to the moon by 2030. "We don't want China to go there and say, 'this is our territory'," NASA boss Bill Nelson said on television in late August. Lastly, even though the Apollo missions brought back nearly 400 kilograms of lunar rock to Earth, new samples will help deepen our knowledge of the planet and its formation. "The samples collected during Apollo changed our vision of the solar system," said astronaut Jessica Meir. "And that will continue with Artemis." Thanks to the investment and scientific enthusiasm generated by these new missions, she also anticipates concrete spin-offs on Earth (technologies, engineering, etc.), just like in the Apollo era.
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