In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the moon — and the twin sister of Apollo. How perfectly fitting, then, that NASA has chosen Artemis as the name of its mission to land the first woman on the moon. First announced in 2019, the Artemis program now has an official road map, released by NASA, and it sure is an ambitious one.
The goal of the first phase of Artemis is to get the first woman and the next man back on the moon in 2024, a full 52 years after a human last walked on the lunar surface (Eugene Cernan during Apollo 17). In order to do so, NASA has outlined its plans — and its $28 billion budget — in a new report.
“Under the Artemis program, humanity will explore regions of the moon never visited before, uniting people around the unknown, the never seen, and the once impossible,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, wrote in the introduction of the report. “We will return to the moon robotically beginning next year, send astronauts to the surface within four years, and build a long-term presence on the moon by the end of the decade.”
The first mission, Artemis I, is scheduled to launch in 2021, provided that its new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket gets off the ground this year in its final testing phase. Artemis I will be an uncrewed mission. The Orion capsule, which was developed for this and future space exploration programs, will orbit the moon sans astronauts for a few weeks to test its systems and develop a payload of 13 satellites.
Artemis II will follow, if all goes well, in 2023: Astronauts will fly the Orion spacecraft around the moon, but they won’t land on its surface, mimicking Apollo 8. But Artemis III, scheduled for 2024, will be the big show. NASA astronauts will touch down on the moon’s south pole, a region not yet explored by humans. And one of those astronauts will become the first woman on the moon, although the astronaut to receive this honor has not yet been selected. (Crews are typically named two years prior to launch, though Bridenstine suggested on a call with reporters that the Artemis III selection might be made earlier.)
After the monumental landing, Artemis won’t be over.
“We’re going back to the moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation of explorers,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “As we build up a sustainable presence, we’re also building momentum toward those first human steps on the Red Planet.”
The second phase of Artemis is all about establishing a long-term human presence on the moon through the Artemis Base Camp, where astronauts can perform research on the lunar surface, as well as constructing a lunar orbit space station called the Gateway that will be used to propel future spacecrafts all the way to Mars and beyond.
Bridenstine added, “With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the moon is well within America’s reach.”
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