Artemis I is airborne. It is the official start of NASA’s Artemis mission, a mission to ensure that the first black person and the first woman set foot on the moon. However, that is far from the only reason why the mission is so important. This is what makes Artemis so important and why we haven’t been on the moon for so long.
If you’re a fan of all things space, you’re probably gloating today: Artemis I has finally launched properly after many technical problems and storms and that’s very good news. However, if you tell someone who is less involved with NASA-related matters, they will say: “Okay, but we’ve already been to the moon, what makes this so special?”
The first manned moon landing took place in July 1969: the whole world could see Armstrong speak his famous words: “A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind.” After that, a number of people have been on the Moon, but in total only 12 people have been on the Moon. The last footprints date from December 14, 1972, when Eugene Cernan spent 75 hours there. Then NASA’s lunar program was suddenly called off.
That has nothing to do with NASA’s performance, any danger on the journey or the lack of technological development. It had everything to do with politics. We could have made hundreds more trips to the moon in the nearly 50 years since that last step if we had the will and technology, but the Cold War ended NASA’s first lunar mission, Apollo. The United States ran out of money for NASA’s ambitions. NASA received 4 percent of the federal budget in 1965, but it hasn’t risen above 1 percent in recent decades.
In addition, the International Space Station was built in space at a certain point and the focus was mainly on doing research in space and not so much on the moon. There have been other deep space missions, but they have always been unmanned. Safe enough, but considerably less exciting than when we see astronauts successfully reaching new areas.
From the 19’s to the 20’s
It may seem very easy to visit the moon: if we could do it with our ‘wooden string’ tech in the 1960s, it must be a breeze now, right? Well, make no mistake: the moon is still very far away. 384,400 kilometers. You can get there in a few days with a special rocket: a Boeing 747 would take two weeks. Everything on the moon is also very old: there is no water, no wind, nothing actually happens there.
Okay, but if nothing happened, why go back? Because as humans we love to discover new things. We want to know what is happening around us. And for some, we even want to establish a colony on the moon and/or on Mars. The moon missions are therefore mainly seen as a test for the actual target: Mars. A space station has to be made on the moon and even the ESA (the European space agency) is very happy that people settle on the moon. In addition, the moon is also a handy intermediate station for those who want to go to Mars in the future, and there is a plan to put a telescope on the moon to be able to look far into the universe.
Not just NASA
What is also new is that it is no longer just NASA with a lunar obsession: Russia, China, India and Israel are also working on it. Don’t forget commercial parties either: Elon Musk also has big plans with his SpaceX. Plans that it is developing together with NASA, among others. It built a gigantic rocket for a reason that will hopefully see its first successful launch in December. Not only for scientific reasons: tourism must also play a much larger role in space.
And now Artemis I has been launched and it can really begin. Thanks to the use of solar panels instead of power cells, Artemis can stay in lunar orbit much longer than Apollo ever could. Artemis I’s mission is to pave the way for a sustainable, longer stay on the moon. But also, and this is something you might not think: a lot of technological developments that we use on earth have emerged from what the bright minds at space organizations come up with for space travel.
Solar panels, smart cars and various possibilities of your smartphone have their origins in space travel in a certain way. It is a new way of making scientific discoveries that we can also benefit from on Earth. In short, an exciting time is coming for both people in space and those with both feet on the ground, even if you don’t follow the space news every day.
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