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Beyond Apollo: The Artemis Programme and the Next Chapter of Human Space Exploration

When Gene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 19th 1972, after their successful Apollo 17 mission to the Moon, the first chapter of lunar exploration came to a close. Due to astronomical costs, literally, the American political class no longer felt the need to flaunt their achievement in the Soviets' faces and with that the Apollo programme was terminated. Now, after over half a century, the insatiable appetite of the Americans has resurfaced. While landing on the Moon was once described as a "giant leap for mankind" by Neil Armstrong, it is now viewed as a mere stepping stone to explore even more distant lands.


In Greek mythology, Apollo is commonly associated with the Sun, while his twin sister, Artemis, is the goddess associated with the hunt and wilderness. It therefore seems appropriate that our next lunar programme would be named after her. Although the engineering expertise displayed in the Apollo programme is undeniable, it did not bring us any closer to becoming an interplanetary species. The Artemis programme, on the other hand, will be sustainable and safer for all those involved in aiming to bring humanity into the Space Age.


To ensure successful lunar exploration, the programme consists of several key components.

First, there is the Space Launch System (SLS) used to leave Earth’s orbit, which is one of the most powerful rockets ever built. Secondly, Orion, named after Artemis' lover, is the spacecraft responsible for carrying astronauts to and from the Moon’s orbit. It is a result of the collaboration between many different contractors and space agencies from around the world. It can support a manned mission of at least 21 days and, once the time comes, will be able to stay in space for upwards of six months. Once in the Moon’s orbit, Orion will dock into the Lunar Gateway, a small space station, with SpaceX’s Starship carrying astronauts from the Gateway to the Moon's surface.


The Lunar Gateway, or Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway to give it its full name, will be an exploration into how we can push the limit of human habitability further and further from Earth. According to NASA, the Gateway will also “be an outpost orbiting the Moon that provides vital support for a sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface, as well as a staging point for deep space exploration.” Beyond the initial Artemis missions, it will provide fuel and supplies for Orion and its crew, acting as a final checkpoint before a long three to nine-month journey to Mars in the 2030s. Therefore, the technological advancements that the Artemis programme is producing will be crucial for deep space missions to reduce risks further out.


Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight that launched in November 2022, successfully orbited around the Moon. Orion flew further than any other spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. Artemis 2, planned for September 2025, will mark the first crewed flight, although astronauts will not land on the lunar surface. Finally, Artemis 3, scheduled for September 2026, will have astronauts landing on the Moon again, including the first woman and person of colour. The whole programme is estimated to cost approximately $93bn, which NASA will be hoping does not detract the government from pouring adequate money into it. 


One of the ultimate goals of the Artemis programme is to set up a permanent lunar base. This comes after researchers have confirmed that water exists both in the sunlit and shadowed surfaces of the Moon. NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) identified significant deposits of water ice at the bottoms of craters permanently shrouded in darkness. This discovery opens up possibilities for sustainable lunar settlements as access to water ice could provide drinking water, a necessary condition for any life to be possible. Additionally, while the Moon’s temperature can vary from -130°C to +120°C, computer modelling has identified some permanently sheltered craters that steadily hover around the +17°C mark, which are currently targeted as ideal locations for this future permanent lunar base. By having this lunar laboratory, we will be able to better understand planetary processes and their potential implications for other celestial bodies.


Artemis is not just a question of science however; there is something indescribable and breathtaking about sending humans to another world. It allows us to marvel at the hope that today marks a turning point in the exploration of space. As President Bush said: “This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart.” The Artemis programme serves as a reminder that humanity is remarkably persistent, embracing the notion of starting from square one if it enables us to explore further into the unknown.


 

Written by Thomas Loubeyres


The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Thomas Loubeyres — not TEDxWarwick.


If you have any questions concerning the article, its research, and opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section, or email publications@tedxwarwick.com.

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