Artemis 1 and America’s Return to the Moon
A new NASA program is laying the groundwork for future lunar exploration and beyond. The Orion capsule launched from NASA’s…
A new NASA program is laying the groundwork for future lunar exploration and beyond.
The Orion capsule launched from NASA’s Artemis 1 begins its 10-day lunar orbit today, marking a significant milestone in America’s long-awaited return to the Moon. On Wednesday, the unmanned capsule was launched atop the massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from Cape Canaveral’s famed Launch Complex 39B, the site of the manned Moon launches of the Apollo program a half-century ago.
It’s been 50 years since astronaut Gene Cernan was the last human to walk on the Moon, and the American space program has had its ups and downs ever since. The U.S. convincingly won the Space Race of the 1960s against the Soviets, but abruptly halted the Apollo program due to cost and a lack of interest from politicians and the public.
The Space Shuttle program, which began in 1981, helped establish and maintain our modern satellite network and assemble the International Space Station (ISS). While the Soviet Union, and later Russia, and other nations began exploring space and exploiting its commercial opportunities, the U.S. remained preeminent in space exploration.
In 2011, without a manned space vehicle to replace it, the Space Shuttle was retired. It was a low point for the U.S. space program. For the first time since 1961, America had no way of putting people into orbit. We were forced to hitch rides to and from the ISS from the Russians. Plans for returning to the Moon and a manned mission to Mars were without shape, without hardware, and without strong political support.
Now, the Artemis program is finally underway. Artemis, the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, is designed to return humans to the Moon, this time to stay. Artemis 1, currently underway, will be an unmanned test of the major and minor components of the mission. This includes the Orion capsule, various ground and orbital computing and infrastructure systems, and the SLS, the most powerful rocket ever built.
Artemis 2, scheduled for 2024, will take a human crew to the Moon and back. Artemis 3 will bring astronauts to the Moon to set up a permanent base that will be the stepping stone for crewed missions to Mars and beyond.
It’s a lofty goal, but that was always the idea. The Moon missions of the 1960s have been picked apart by historians and scientists as being a public relations program to show up the Soviets. This was partially true, though the Earth-bound applications that have spun off from NASA missions to the Moon and elsewhere have brought immeasurable improvements to our way of life. Space exploration technology has trickled down to modern household appliances, advanced medical technology, the phones we carry, and the GPS that guides our Earth-bound trips. It was also an opportunity for America to showcase its grit and ingenuity for all the world to see.
The benefits of NASA’s work far outweigh the cost to taxpayers. At the height of the Space Race, NASA accounted for 4.5% percent of the federal budget. In 2021, NASA’s budget was $23 billion, a paltry sum compared to many other government programs and entitlements.
There is also the matter of national security. In recent years, the Communist Chinese have made some impressive strides in space exploration, sending unmanned probes to the Moon and Mars. They have near-term goals of a space station and a Moon base of their own, and a longer-term goal of overtaking the U.S. in the international order.
The Chinese have the willpower and the technology to make their space goals a reality. But if we hope to keep space free and open for all mankind, we can’t afford to cede this final frontier to China or any other nation.