What is NASA’s Artemis program?

Artemis, America’s lunar return program, has been a top priority for NASA for many years. Her name was chosen in echo of the Apollo program, having led the only 12 men to walk on the Moon, between 1969 and 1972. Artemis, in Greek mythology, is the twin sister of Apollo (Apollo in the English editor’s note) and a goddess associated with the Moon.

The first mission is due to take off this Monday, August 29, and the ambition is to send the first woman and the first non-white person on the lunar surface during the following ones. Here’s an overview of these increasingly difficult missions, all the way to the ultimate goal: allowing humans to travel to Mars.

Artemis 1: test flight

The Artemis 1 mission is to dig up NASA’s new giant rocket, dubbed the SLS, and the Orion capsule on top, to ensure they can safely transport astronauts into the future. Orion will go into orbit around the Moon before returning to Earth.

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Artemis 2: first crew

Scheduled for 2024, Artemis 2 will take astronauts to the Moon, but not land there, as Apollo 8 did in 1968.

The composition of the crew should be announced by the end of the year. We already know that a Canadian will be a part of this and that, in doing so, he will become the first Canadian national to enter deep space.

Artemis 3: Landing on the Moon

This third mission can be compared to Apollo 11: it will be the first in the program to land astronauts on the Moon.

They will arrive for the first time at the Moon’s South Pole, where the presence of water in the form of ice has been confirmed, and not near the equator as during Apollo. Artemis 3 is officially scheduled for 2025, but according to an independent public audit it should actually take place in 2026 “As soon as possible”.

From’Artemis 3, NASA wants to launch about one mission a year.

Lander SpaceX

NASA selected SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, to build the landerArtemis 3. Concretely, this lander will transport between the Orion capsule and the lunar surface: once it has arrived in orbit around the Moon, the capsule will dock with the spacecraft, sent separately upstream, which will then be responsible for to lower the astronauts to the surface and then to bring them back. It is then aboard the Orion that they will return to Earth.

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This lander will be a version of the Starship spacecraft, which has so far only carried out suborbital tests. To reach Earth orbit, it will need to be powered by the first-stage Super Heavy rocket, also under development.

And before it can reach the Moon, it will have to refuel by refueling directly in space from another starship, previously filled with fuel – a highly dangerous transfer never before tested. For the rest of the program ArtemisNASA has launched a new tender with other companies for the development of additional landers.

The Gateway space station

The program Artemis also includes the construction of a station in orbit around the Moon, dubbed the Gateway. The launch of the first two elements – a housing module and the propulsion system – is scheduled for the end of 2024 at the earliest, by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

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The following modules will be launched by SLS at the same time as Orion and its crew, responsible for assembling them at their destination. The astronauts will be there between 30 and 60 days. Eventually, a lander will be docked there to allow them to descend to the Moon from the station.

The Gateway will also serve as a stopover before future trips to Mars.

The ultimate goal: Mars

Paradoxically, the star really at the center of the show Artemis not the Moon, but Mars. NASA wants to test the technologies necessary to send the first humans to the red planet: new suits, vehicle to get around, mini-power plant, use of lunar water…

The creation of a base on the surface of the Moon is planned. The idea is to learn how to establish a lasting human presence in deep space – but not too long, before trying the experiment on Mars. Because in the event of a problem, the Moon is only days away. March, several months at least.

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