Launch of Artemis I to pave the way for a future lunar colony

2030 will be the decade to watch for the long-term settlement of the moon, and potentially Mars as well. But it all starts now, with the launch of Artemis I on August 29.

Artemis I is an uncrewed test mission, but it is the first step towards returning humans to the moon since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. Colonization of the Moon is important for Mars exploration because astronauts want using the lunar surface as a kind of pit stop to relaunch during long visits to the red planet.

According to Artemis partners NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the Artemis program will shed light on what has changed in space exploration over the past half-century.

And a lot has changed since 1972.

On the one hand, vision and technology are more advanced. Artemis predicts that humans will arrive on the moon in 2025 and establish a more permanent colony through travel over the following years.

“At first, people will only go to the Moon for a week, but future Artemis missions will establish people there for a month or two. Eventually, permanent colonies will be established,” said Juergen Schlutz, an aerospace engineer at the ESA, to DW.

Artemis will also mark the first time women and people of color have walked on the moon.

What is the Artemis program?

The upcoming launch is the first of six Artemis lunar missions scheduled through 2028. There will be no humans aboard the Orion spacecraft for Artemis I. Instead, the mission is essentially a safety test. But future missions will include people.

The Artemis program began in 2017 as part of efforts to revitalize the space program. It is produced by NASA in partnership with ESA and the space agencies of several other nations.

“We want to extend the reach of humans in space. The moon is our closest neighbour. He has resources and qualities for research, but for us, the Artemis program is mainly about getting a foothold in space,” Schlutz said.

NASA named the program after Apollo’s twin sister, Artemis, the moon goddess in Greek mythology.

The mission will lift off from Kennedy Space Center on August 29 at 7:30 a.m. in Florida (1:30 p.m. in Central Europe), launching an Orion spacecraft to the moon for 26 to 42 days. At least six of those days will be spent in a distant orbit of the moon before plunging into the Pacific Ocean.

Artemis I is a safety test for future crewed spaceflight
According to Schlutz, the purpose of this launch is to certify the safety of Orion and the Space Launch System for future crewed missions.

“Artemis is a program to bring humans back to the moon. Artemis I is the first mission that will test the transportation systems to get us there,” Schlutz said.

Orion is a partially reusable spacecraft equipped with solar panels and an automated docking system, as well as primary and secondary repulsion motors that will propel the spacecraft out of Earth’s orbit and direct it to the moon.

ESA, along with European contractors like AirBus, have played a pivotal role in building the technology for spaceflight.

While Orion will be able to carry a crew of six, Artemis I will fly two mannequins, Helga and Zohar, equipped with radiation measurement sensors.

When will people live on the Moon?

The long-term goal of the Artemis program is the colonization of Mars. Schlutz said the moon is a fitting stop on the path to serving as a sort of outpost for Mars explorers. The first lunar landing pad – the so-called Artemis Base Camp – should be established at the end of this decade.

The Chinese National Space Administration and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) are also proposing to build their own lunar base, called the International Lunar Research Station, in the early 2030s.

The moon base would support missions for up to two months and would be used as an outpost to optimize technologies and living conditions. Astronauts could reach it in less than a week. Impressive, considering that it took explorers up to four weeks to reach the Americas from Europe just 200 years ago.

Aiden Cowley, materials scientist at ESA, explained that the systems and technologies needed to live on other planets will be tested on the Moon.

“The moon is a hostile environment. One of the biggest challenges is protecting astronauts from radiation. We plan to build habitat modules with regolith [moon dust] brick exteriors to block radiation,” Cowley told DW.

Resource management, radiation protection and energy harvesting systems will be tested on the Moon and then brought to Mars. It takes six months to get to Mars, so the lunar mission provides a more accessible testing ground.

“There’s no need to phone for new tools. But what we can do is 3D print tools and objects from materials on the moon,” Cowley said.

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