Open CNN for live coverage of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida through Monday morning’s launch. Space correspondents Kristin Fisher and Rachel Crane will bring us time-to-time reports from the launch along with a team of experts.
When the unmanned Artemis I mission launched on Monday, August 29, it was only the first step toward the future of space exploration.
The last crewed landing on the moon, Apollo 17, was nearly 50 years ago. The last Apollo mission record for longest manned space flight still stands: 12.5 days.
Through the Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the moon’s unexplored south pole and eventually on Mars, astronauts will undertake long-term space missions that test all limits of exploration.
“We’re going back to the moon to learn to live, work, and survive,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said at a press conference earlier this month.
“How do you keep humans alive in those hostile conditions? And we’ll learn how to use the resources on the moon to be able to build something in the future as we walk — not a quarter of a million miles away, not a three day trip — but millions and millions of miles away in 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, you don’t just rely on new gear and shoes that haven’t broken down, he says. Mars is also not the place to test new equipment for the first time.
“We’re going to some local places a little closer first,” said Bresnik. “Then you can go back home if your shoelaces break or something.”
Astronauts have lived and worked on the International Space Station, which rotates about 254 miles above the planet in low-Earth orbit, for more than 20 years. Their experience, which can last anywhere from six months to almost a year, has revealed how the microgravity environment affects the human body.
“Every day I spend personally on the space station, I see it as if I were walking on Mars,” said NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, Chief Astronaut Office at Johnson Space Center in Houston. “That’s why we’re up there. We’re trying to make life better on Earth and we’re trying to extend humanity into our solar system.”
On Artemis II, scheduled for 2024, astronauts will follow the same path as Artemis I – around the moon at a wider distance than any Apollo mission. Artemis III, slated for late 2025, will land the first woman and the next man on the moon’s south pole, where a permanently shadowed area may harbor ice and other resources that could sustain astronauts during a long lunar voyage.
“Our moon basically functions as a heavenly library next door,” said Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s chief exploration scientist. “Moon rocks and moon ice basically serve as these library books. We can use them to start revealing how the solar system evolved. It can really help us gain insight into what happens on Earth as life establishes a foothold in the solar system.”
The Artemis program involves establishing a sustained human presence on the moon and placing an orbiting extraterrestrial outpost called the Gateway in its place.
“We want to stay on the lunar surface and study on the lunar surface so we can get the most knowledge out of it and figure out how we’re going to get to Mars,” said Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. “At Apollo, we did some amazing science on the equator. This time, we’re going to the South Pole.”
Over time, the SLS rocket will evolve, Nelson said. By the time the Artemis IV mission hits the launch pad later this decade to dock with the Gateway, the rocket will be taller and even more powerful than the version used for Artemis I.
Artemis I was a test mission, Nelson stressed. It serves as the maiden flight of the Space Launch System Rocket, the Orion spacecraft and its heat shield, as well as a protective device for future astronauts and measuring radiation exposure.
Lessons learned from Artemis I, which will be collected when it rains in October, can inform the next steps of the Artemis program.
Currently, the first five Artemis missions are planned, and NASA is working on details of missions six to ten, Free said.
The team at NASA “went through broad exploratory goals and then narrowed down to the architecture that got us to Mars,” Free said. “We are considering rolling out that architecture, decisions and processes early next year.”
“With the launch of Artemis I on Monday, NASA is at a historic turning point, ready to embark on the most significant series of human and science exploration missions in a generation,” said Bhavya Lal, NASA’s associate administrator for technology, policy, and strategy.