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NASA’s Artemis Program

In July of 1969, we journeyed to the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as NASA’s Apollo 11 program made history. After that milestone, space agencies around the world shifted their focus to exploring the outer planets with a variety of orbiting spacecraft and land rovers.

NASA is again setting its sights on the Moon with a much more ambitious project. The Artemis Program (Apollo’s twin sister) will send men and women into space to set up an outpost on the lunar surface and begin testing new equipment and technologies that could pave the way to Mars in the 2030’s.

A “Super-highway” to the Moon

The Gateway will be a space station placed in permanent orbit around the Moon, similar to the ISS. It will serve as a “command and service module” as astronauts arrive from earth, dock to the Gateway, and then descend to the lunar surface in a smaller lander spacecraft. Beginning in 2022, components of the Gateway will arrive in lunar orbit, the first being the Power Propulsion Element (PPE) that will supply Gateway with solar electric power.

The 5-day journey from earth to the Gateway will be aboard an upgraded version of the Orion spacecraft. NASA is currently testing safety features built into Orion that would allow its crew of four astronauts to quickly jettison away in the event of a malfunction during take-off. Orion will dock with the Gateway and then return the crew to earth when their work is completed.

Orion will be launched into space atop the Space Launch System. The SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built. It’s use in the Artemis program is really a testing phase that NASA scientists hope will allow them to evolve it’s thrust components to eventually launch a Mars-bound spacecraft.

To the Moon and Back

The phases of the Artemis program include:

  • a test launch of Orion in 2021
  • sending a crew of four into lunar orbit and then returning them safely to earth in 2022
  • sending a crew to the Gateway to dock Orion with the newly-built space station in 2024

Once these mechanisms are in place, astronauts will travel to the lunar surface where they’ll explore the Moon’s south pole, conduct research and test new equipment, and learn how to live and work safely within the challenging environment of deep space.