By Lily Warner
53 years ago, Neil Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the Moon. He wasn’t the last. His fellow crewmate Buzz Aldrin set down right after him, and there were five more crewed missions to the Moon in the following years. But, in 1972 Apollo 17 left the Moon, and we haven’t returned since. It’s been half a century since we landed on the Moon. Half a century since attention has been turned to the stars, and finally, finally, NASA is ready to go back.
Why are we going back to the Moon? After all, we got all the data we needed back during the Apollo missions, and anything we didn’t do could be done much more effectively by unmanned drones. So, why go to the expense and danger of putting people back on the Moon?
To put it simply? Colonization.
The goal of the Artemis program is “to build a long-term human presence at the Moon for decades to come,” according to NASA’s official website. That is a big deal. It’s the first step towards human colonization of the solar system, and a necessary one. After all, colonizing the solar system isn’t easy, and it’s damn near impossible without a base on the Moon.
The problem with colonizing space is mainly the expense such an endeavor would require. Not entirely of course, the science isn’t quite at the point where we could terraform Mars or anything, but that will never change without an economic incentive to do things in space. And why is there no incentive? After all, there is an asteroid belt full to bursting with precious metals, a potential new transportation industry, tons and tons of potential money. And yet…there’s very little interest. Why?
Rockets are simply too expensive.
Artemis I’s Orion rocket costs 4.1 billion dollars per launch. No business is going to base themselves off of a product that will cost billions of dollars just to ship! So, they need to cut costs. SpaceX in particular has done a lot in that regard, allowing much of a rocket’s material to be recovered via retrorockets, but it still costs a lot in terms of fuel to escape Earth’s orbit.
It would not cost nearly as much to escape the Moon’s orbit.
The Moon’s gravity well is much smaller than Earth’s, because the Moon is much smaller than Earth. That means that if rocket fuel can be produced on the Moon, it can be used as a very effective space port. Industries based in space could launch from the Moon at a fraction of the current cost, and then “drop” any products back to Earth easily.
Establishing a permanent, or long term, presence on the Moon means the first step towards becoming an interplanetary species. It means the first step towards a new world of possibility, it means the first step towards ensuring our species survival for thousands of years to come. And that’s what Artemis wants to do.
The first mission of the Artemis program is set to launch “no earlier than Sept. 2, 2022.” It is, in essence, a test flight. It’ll be uncrewed, remotely piloted, and its goal is to test the efficacy of the Orion systems. It’ll last around 42 days, assuming no complications, and will re-enter the atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour, after flying out past the Moon over the course of the mission.
Artemis I is the first step towards the first step towards interplanetary Earth. It is a signal of things to come, and the beginning of the next generation of humans in space.