I thought I would check out what’s happening on the ‘Return to the Moon’ front for this month’s blog. There has obviously been no manned landings on the moon or manned trips around our natural satellite for decades, so what are the future plans? Maybe first up we can have a brief look at the state of play.
The first human-made object to touch the Moon was the Luna 2 from the Soviet Union on 13 September 1959.
The Apollo 11, launched by the United States, was the first crewed mission to land on the Moon, on 20 July 1969. There were six crewed US landings between 1969 and 1972, and numerous uncrewed landings, with no soft landings (no intentional or accidental crash landings) happening between 22 August 1976 and 14 December 2013.
The United States is the only country to have successfully conducted crewed missions to the Moon, with the last departing the lunar surface in December 1972. All soft landings took place on the near side of the Moon until 3 January 2019, when the Chinese Chang’e 4 spacecraft made the first landing on the far side.
For the aficionado there is a full list of lunar missions here (including the failed launches): LIST
Over the next few years, we should see the launch of more than a dozen new lunar missions, so we can say that the return to the moon is getting serious. Some will orbit or loop around the moon, some will land, some will deploy rovers and other robots for close exploration. Others will prospect for water ice and other resources. All of these missions, of course, are a prelude for a permanent human presence on the moon.
The main thrust of the next moon missions is the Artemis program. This program is designed to put humans on the moon once more, and it will have commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system.
Artemis, in Greek religion, was the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, and vegetation, and of chastity and childbirth; she was identified by the Romans with Diana.
The biggest rocket ever built, the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft and the Gateway lunar command module will be the work horses in this new lunar thrust. With its partners, NASA will use the Gateway lunar command module orbiting the Moon as a staging point for missions that allow astronauts to explore more parts of the lunar surface than ever before.
In going to the Moon, NASA hopes to lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars. The Moon will provide a proving ground to test technologies and resources that will take humans to the red planet and beyond, including building a sustainable, reusable architecture.
Artemis 2, Late 2022
Though Artemis 3 is the mission that aims to actually return humans to the surface, its immediate predecessor is an exciting step. For the first time since Apollo 17, astronauts will leave Earth’s orbit.
Artemis 2 will be a lunar flyby—a test to ensure that Orion can safely take humans to deep space and back. The mission will almost certainly carry small secondary payloads for various science experiments, but the trip around the moon and its far side is the standout spectacle to watch.
NASA will continue that work by moving forward to the Moon with astronauts targeted to land on the lunar South Pole by 2024.
You can read more here about the projects from various countries: PROJECTS
and more on Artemis here: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/
The timetables stipulated above were detailed before the advent of this wretched Covid virus, the effects of which we are all experiencing at the moment. So some delays are inevitable, and also some financial cuts may be on the cards.
The good news is that the plans are well developed, thorough and logical; the stepping stones are defined, most technical partners know the part they will play. Sooner rather than later may not now be on the cards, though.
You can check out a previous blog on lunar habitats here: https://claytongraham.com.au/moon-village/