Why NASA wants to return to the Moon before sending humans to Mars

See CNN for live coverage from Kennedy Space Center in Florida through launch Monday morning. Space reporters Kristen Fisher and Rachel Crane will give us a real-time report on the launch with a team of experts.

When the Artemis I unmanned mission lifts off on Monday, August 29, it’s just the first step into the future of space exploration.

The last manned moon landing, Apollo 17, dates back almost 50 years. The last Apollo mission record for the longest crewed spaceflight still stands: 12.5 days.

Through the Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the undiscovered south pole of the Moon and eventually Mars, astronauts will fly long-duration deep-space missions that will test all the limits of exploration.

“We will return to the moon to learn how to live, work and survive,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said at a press conference earlier this month.

“How do you maintain human life in these hostile conditions? And we’ll learn to use the Moon’s resources so that we can build things in the future as we go – not a quarter of a million miles, not a three-day trip – but millions and millions of kilometers in a trip it takes months and months. If not years.

NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik discussed the importance of using lunar exploration as a way to prepare for a Mars landing during a NASA briefing on Saturday.

When camping in the Alaskan wilderness, he said, you don’t just rely on new gear and shoes that haven’t been broken in yet. Mars is also not the place to test new gear for the first time.

“We’ll go to some local places a bit closer first,” Bresnik said. “Then you can go home if your shoelaces break or something.”

Astronauts have lived and worked aboard the International Space Station, which has orbited about 254 miles above the planet in low Earth orbit, for more than 20 years. Their experiments, which can last from six months to almost a year, revealed how the microgravity environment affects the human body.

“Every day that I personally spent on the space station, I would consider walking on Mars,” said NASA astronaut Reed Wiseman, chief of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “That’s why we are here. We are trying to improve life on Earth and expand humanity into our solar system.

Read more: Artemis I in numbers

In Artemis II, scheduled for 2024, astronauts will follow a similar trajectory to Artemis I – orbiting the moon at a wider distance than any of the Apollo missions. Artemis 3, scheduled for late 2025, will land the first woman and next man at the moon’s south pole, where permanently shadowed regions may harbor ice and other resources that could sustain astronauts during a hike on the surface of the moon.

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“Our moon is like a celestial library right next to it,” said NASA chief exploration scientist Jacob Blecher. “Moon rocks and moon ice are essentially the books in this library. We can use them to begin to reveal how the solar system evolved. It can really help us get a sense of what was happening here on Earth when life was first gaining a foothold in the solar system.

The Artemis program includes establishing a lasting human presence on the Moon and establishing a lunar outpost called Gateway in its place.

This illustration shows the design of a SpaceX human lander that will carry NASA astronauts to the lunar surface through the Artemis program.

“We want to stay on the lunar surface and learn on the lunar surface to gain as much knowledge as possible and learn how we’re going to Mars,” said Jim Frey, Associate Administrator of the Systems Development Missions Directorate. NASA exploration. “At Apollo, we presented incredible science at the equator. This time, we’re going to the South Pole.

The SLS missile will evolve over time, Nelson said. By the time the Artemis IV mission moves to the launch pad later in the decade to dock at the gate, the missile will be longer and more powerful than the version used on the Artemis I.

Artemis I will feature the first biological experiment in deep space

Nelson pointed out that Artemis I is an experimental mission. It serves as the maiden flight for the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion spacecraft and its heat shield, as well as protective gear for future astronauts and a measure of radiation exposure.

a A series of science experiments and technical presentations Inside Orion and flying outside on small satellites called CubeSats, it will collect additional data about the space environment that Artemis astronauts will encounter at the future.

Lessons from Artemis I, which will be collected when it launches in October, can inform the next steps for the Artemis program.

Currently, the first five Artemis missions are planned, and NASA is working on details for six to 10 missions, Frey said.

Frye said NASA teams “go through broad exploration goals and then narrow them down to a structure that takes us to Mars.” “We look forward to cycling through this structure, these resolutions and this process in the first part of next year.”

The goal of landing humans on Mars by 2033 was set by the Obama administration and NASA officials have since endorsed the goal.

“With the launch of Artemis I on Monday, NASA is at a historic inflection point, preparing to begin the most important series of scientific and human exploration missions in a generation,” said Bhavya Lal, associate administrator of NASA for technology, policy and strategy. .

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