Artemis raises the return of a manned mission to the Moon . New breakthroughs, paving the way for Mars and pressure from China are mixed.
50 years after the last Apollo flight , the United States is preparing to launch the first Artemis mission , its new program to return to the Moon . But why repeat what has already been done?
Criticism has increased in recent years, for example from Michael Collins , a member of Apollo 11 , the first manned mission to the Moon , who accused NASA of not thinking big enough by not aiming directly at Mars .
But for the American space agency, the Moon is essential before a trip to the red planet . These are his main arguments.
NASA will test new equipment
NASA wants to test on the Moon the technologies that will allow it to evolve on Mars .
Indeed, it must test the new suits for spacewalks , whose design was entrusted to the company Axiom Space for the first mission that will touch the lunar soil in 2025, at the earliest.
Other needs include vehicles (pressurized or not) for the movement of the astronauts, as well as housing.
Finally, for sustainable access to an energy source, NASA is working on developing portable nuclear fission systems.
Solving any eventual problems will be much easier on the Moon , just a few days away from Earth , than on Mars , which takes several months to reach.
It’s not just going to the Moon, it’s learning to live far from Earth
NASA wants to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon , with missions lasting several weeks, not a few days like the Apollo program . The goal: to better understand how to live and work in deep space.
Space radiation represents a real threat to health, and is more intense on the Moon than on the International Space Station (ISS), located a thousand times closer to Earth and therefore still partially shielded by its magnetic field.
Since the first Artemis mission , experiments have been planned to study the impact of this radiation on living organisms, and to evaluate the effectiveness of an anti-radiation jacket.
In addition, NASA wants to learn how to use the resources available on site. Specifically, taking advantage of water in the form of ice, whose existence has been confirmed at the South Pole of the Moon , and which could be transformed into fuel (water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen, which are used by rockets).
This strategy could allow NASA not to have to transport everything, and thus reduce costs.
A potential stopover on the journey to Mars
The Artemis program also includes the construction of a space station in orbit around the Moon , called Gateway , which will serve as a stopover on the journey to Mars .
All the necessary equipment can be sent in “several launches” before the crew finally arrives to leave for the red planet , Sean Fuller, head of the Gateway program , told AFP .
Something similar to “going to the gas station” before embarking on a trip, he said.
A new space race with… China
Aside from the goal of going to Mars , another reason Americans give for settling on the Moon is to do so before the Chinese.
In the 1960s, when the dream of reaching the Moon began , the space race was going on between the United States and Russia , then the Soviet Union . But today the big competitor 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 chief Bill Nelson said in a television interview in late August.
A great opportunity for scientific knowledge
Finally, although the Apollo missions brought to Earth close to 400 kilograms of lunar rock, new samples will allow us to deepen our knowledge of the only natural Earth satellite and its formation.
“The samples we collected during the Apollo missions changed the way we see our solar system,” astronaut Jessica Meir told AFP . “And that will continue with Artemis .”
Thanks to the investments and scientific enthusiasm that these new missions generate, Meir also anticipates concrete benefits on Earth (technologies, engineering, etc.), as in the time of Apollo .
With information from AFP