How NASA might send astronauts back to the moon

The Moon has not been disturbed by human footsteps since the last Apollo mission in 1972. But that could change soon.

NASA plans to send astronauts back to the moon in a series of spaceflights called the Artemis program this decade. The first launch could take place as early as Monday with a test flight with no crew members on board. At some point, but no earlier than 2025, NASA will send astronauts for a week-long stay near the moon’s south pole. The crew will include the first woman and the first person of color to walk on the moon, NASA said.

Artemis I

1. Departure

The Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket will lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

2. CubeSats release

En route to the moon, the mission will deploy 10 small research satellites called CubeSats.

3. Lunar orbit

Orion will orbit the moon about 43,000 miles above the lunar surface.

4. Return

In preparation for splashdown, the crew module is separated from the service module. The crew capsule will land in the Pacific Ocean with the help of parachutes.


A diagram showing the planned path for the Artemis I mission to the moon.





1. Departure

The Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket will lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

2. Lunar orbit

Orion will orbit the moon about 43,000 miles above the lunar surface.

3. Return

In preparation for splashdown, the crew module is separated from the service module. The crew capsule will land in the Pacific Ocean with the help of parachutes.

En route to the moon, the mission will deploy 10 small research satellites bearing the name

CubeSats.


Source: NASA

Note: Diagram is not drawn to scale.

Instead of crew members, the first Artemis mission will launch three mannequins named Helga, Zohar, and Commander Moonikin Campos. Helga and Zohar contain plastic models of radiation-sensitive organs like the uterus and lungs so scientists can study how radiation in space might affect future astronauts.

The three mannequins will travel in a spacecraft called the Orion, specially designed to protect human crew members and conduct experiments in space.


The Orion spaceship

A diagram showing the various components of the Orion spacecraft.





CREW module

Can accommodate four people

Start abort system

Able to evacuate the crew module to safety if an emergency occurs during launch

service module

Provides power and propulsion for the crew module

begin

abort system

Able to evacuate the crew module to safety if an emergency occurs during launch

CREW module

Can accommodate four people

service module

Provides power and propulsion for the crew module

CREW module

Can accommodate four people

Start abort system

Able to evacuate the crew module to safety if an emergency occurs during launch

service module

Provides power and propulsion for the crew module


Orion will launch into space on the Space Launch System, a new rocket that will be 322 feet tall and weigh nearly 6 million pounds. The Space Launch System, which will be used in Artemis I, is one of the most powerful rockets ever developed by NASA and can send a payload of almost 60,000 pounds to the moon.


The Space Launch System compared to other rockets

A chart comparing the altitude of five rockets: Saturn V, the Space Shuttle, Falcon 9, the Space Launch System, and Starship.





Apollo Command

and service modules

Current and future rockets

Current and future rockets

Current and future rockets


Artemis II

1. Departure

After launch, the astronauts will orbit the Earth for 24 hours while testing the spacecraft’s controls and life support equipment.

2. Moon flyby

The flight to the moon before the flyby takes four days.

3. Return

A recovery boat will collect the astronauts and crew capsule after they land in the Pacific Ocean.


A diagram showing the path planned for the Artemis II mission to the moon.





1. Departure

After launch, the astronauts will orbit the Earth for 24 hours while testing the spacecraft’s controls and life support equipment.

2. Moon flyby

The flight to the moon before the flyby takes four days.

3. Return

A recovery boat will collect the astronauts and crew capsule after they land in the Pacific Ocean.

life support

system evaluation.

Evaluation of life support systems.

Evaluation of life support systems.


Source: NASA

Note: Diagram is not drawn to scale.

Artemis II, the second mission, will take four astronauts around the moon and back to Earth. The crew’s journey will take them some 4,600 miles across the far side of the moon. Depending on the moon’s position during the mission, this could be the furthest distance into the solar system ever traveled by astronauts.

Artemis III

1. Departure

After launch, the astronauts will enter Earth orbit, perform a systems check, and make adjustments to the solar panels.

2. Lunar orbit

While two crew members land on the lunar surface, Orion and the two remaining astronauts remain in orbit.

3. Moon landing

The lunar lander will undock from Orion and then descend to a lower orbit before landing near the moon’s south pole.

4. Lunar launch

After a week-long mission on the surface, the astronauts will ascend to low lunar orbit before docking with Orion.

5. Return

In addition to the crew returning to Earth, the Orion crew may also bring back scientific samples for future testing.


A diagram showing the path planned for the Artemis III mission to the moon.





just fly past the moon

70 miles above

the surface.

1. Departure

After launch, the astronauts will enter Earth orbit, perform a systems check, and make adjustments to the solar panels.

2. Lunar orbit

While two crew members land on the lunar surface, Orion and the two remaining astronauts remain in orbit.

3. Moon landing

The lunar lander will undock from Orion and then descend to a lower orbit before landing near the moon’s south pole.

4. Lunar launch

After a week-long mission on the surface, the astronauts will ascend to low lunar orbit before docking with Orion.

5. Return

In addition to the crew returning to Earth, the Orion crew may also bring back scientific samples for future testing.

The lunar surface

Mission will last

about a week.

just fly past the moon

70 miles above

the surface.


Source: NASA

Note: Diagram is not drawn to scale.

In Artemis III, astronauts will land a SpaceX spacecraft near the moon’s south pole while Orion waits in lunar orbit. The polar region is home to mysterious, permanently shadowed craters that have not seen sunlight for billions of years. The chemicals frozen inside could help scientists understand more about the history of the moon and the solar system.

If the Artemis III mission is successful, NASA plans to regularly send crews to the moon. His plans include a lunar base camp and an outpost spacecraft called Gateway stationed in lunar orbit.

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