By Ethan Percival
It has been fifty years since Apollo 17 left the moon’s surface, and for fifty years no one has walked on the moon since . However, on November 15, 2022, NASA made history once more. On that day, NASA’s Artemis I Spacecraft finally took flight from the Kennedy Space Center, lifting off with a specular fireball and marking the beginning of NASA’s new moon program. Following the Orion Spacecraft’s 25 day journey, which took it around the moon twice, on December 11th, the Orion crew capsule splashed down off the coast of California. With the Orion spacecraft safely recovered, the mission has been deemed a success.
But after all these decades, why is NASA returning to the moon now? And why was this mission unmanned?
First and foremost, the main goals of the Artemis program are to establish a permanent moon base. This includes searching for lunar ice on the dark side of the moon so that future astronauts will be able to use it for air, gas propellants, and drinking water, as well as landing the habitation modules of the lunar surface. The construction of a moon base will allow NASA to use the moon as a jumping off point for humanity’s journey to Mars.
However, these are the main goals of the future of the Artemis Program (mainly Artemis 3 and onward). For Artemis 1, the mission is a test flight of sorts, to ensure all systems aboard the Orion spacecraft are fully operational and most importantly that the heat shield can withstand the craft’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Additionally, ten CubeSats (small probes/satellites) were carried within the stage adapter above the rocket’s second stage, each with a district purpose. The BioSentinel CubeSat will analyze the effects deep space radiation has on yeast to help us understand the possible health threats these rays may pose to humans. The Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper will search for lunar ice inside permanently shadowed craters. Another CubeSat, the OMOTENASHI, was even designed to land on the lunar surface to demonstrate the effectiveness of low cost technology, but ultimately failed to function properly (ironic).
Ultimately, the first Artemis mission ushers in an exciting new age of space exploration as the Artemis Program will finally allow us to return to the moon and prepare for the journey beyond, the journey to Mars.