NASA are going back to the Moon.
The last man walked on the Moon’s surface in 1972. Since then, barring a few automated rovers, Moon exploration has gone pretty quiet.
But US president Donald Trump is very keen to reassert the country’s dominance in space.
He’s announced the formation of a Space Force, set to be established between 2020 and 2024, and he has rubber-stamped the Project Artemis project.
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Artemis, in Greek mythology was the sister of Apollo. And the choice of name is no accident.
The astronaut who walks in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11 and the first man on the Moon, is expected to be a woman.
NASA have today announced the commissioning of the Orion vehicle that will take Project Artemis to the Moon.
The date of the projected landing is expected to be some time in 2024. It’s an ambitious schedule – NASA hasn’t sent astronauts further than the International Space Station since the Seventies, and the Moon is a much more distant – and a much more dangerous – target.
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“We’ve been given an ambitious and exciting goal. History has proven when we’re given a task by the president, along with the resources and the tools, we can deliver,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“We are committed to making this happen. We have the people to achieve it. Now, we just need bipartisan support and the resources to get this done.”
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He continued: “First, we are focused on speed to land the next man, and first woman, on the Moon by 2024. Second, we will establish sustainable missions by 2028. To do that, we need our powerful Space Launch System to put the mass of reusable systems into deep space."
Welcoming the start of the Orion project, Senator Ted Cruz said:“This is a great day for the men and women at Johnson Space Centre. They are crucial to our national space program, and have an undeniable legacy and record of success in advancing America’s leadership in the human exploration of space.”
Part of the Artemis mission plan will involve a new type of space station called The Gateway, a semi-permanent orbiter which will remain on station around the Moon for multiple missions.
NASA are also consulting with an Australian manufacturer to build a robotic mining truck, like a lighter version of the remote-controlled mining vehicles already in use in Western Australia, to search for minerals and the all-important water ice deposits that future Moon colonists will need.
Professor Stefan Williams, from the University of Sydney's School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering, said the technology that enables the trucks to be controlled from a home base 1,500 miles away could be readily applied to a lunar mission.
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He did point out that there would have to be some significant modifications of the existing designs: "I suspect one of the big challenges will be transporting platforms that are of sufficient size to undertake these long-range missions and to collect enough volumes of material to be viable," Professor Williams said.
"[The vehicles] they drive out there in the Pilbara are pretty massive.”
But the Moon is just the beginning. President Trump has made it clear that the Moon mission is ultimately a staging post for the ultimate goal: a human expedition to Mars.
- Donald Trump
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