That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind - Neil Armstrong, July 20, 1969 (First man to walk on the moon)
Apollo 11 was the first American spaceflight mission to land humans on the Moon, taking place from July 16 to 24, 1969. On July 20, 1969, mission commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin successfully landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle. The major goal of Apollo 11 was to achieve the national goal of performing a crewed lunar landing and returning to Earth.
Six further crewed missions to the Moon followed Apollo 11, with five of them landing successfully.
Commander Gene Cernan and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt would enter into a metal capsule and prepare to return to Earth in December 1972. In many years to come, this crew of the Apollo 17 mission would be the last to land on the lunar surface. They carried out more experiments and inspected the lunar surface than any previous mission. This marked the end of the Apollo program, which had taken more than ten years and involved half a million men and women. Humanity showed that humans could walk on the Moon in a competition between the United States and the Soviet Union known as the space race. Most people expected us to return to the Moon soon after the Apollo 17 crew took off, but we didn't. For more than 30 years, Apollo hardware has sat abandoned on the Moon's surface, remnants of another era. For many of us, the space race is a distant memory. Some people long for the glory days of Apollo's adventures, while others believe the missions never took place. Children who once imagined themselves as astronauts have grown up, fathered children, and even grandkids.
You are probably wondering why man hasn't visited the Moon in so long.
The Apollo program was launched in the setting of a tense Cold War, the most visible manifestation of which was the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. While the landing altered the world forever, enthusiasm for the space program waned almost as soon as the goal was met. Furthermore, many Americans considered that the somewhat symbolic expedition was overly costly. NASA's budget accounted for about 4.5 percent of the overall federal budget in 1966, or more than $40 billion in today's value. In fact, three more Apollo flights were planned but were canceled in favor of the launch of Skylab, NASA's first space station. The benefits of space stations, as well as the enormous amount of collaboration between countries in attempting to create the International Space Station by the late 1990s, virtually eliminated interest in putting people on the Moon. Finally, the Saturn V rocket, which was the only one capable of producing enough thrust to travel to a celestial planet, was retired in 1973.
In the mid-2000s, the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 reintroduced the concept of returning to the Moon. The Act established a framework for NASA to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon in order to promote exploration, science, commerce, and the United States' preeminence in space. This led to the long-awaited Constellation program and the development of new rockets to compete with the Saturn V rocket. Three years after the launch of the Constellation program, the global economic crisis struck. The Obama administration reported in 2010 that the initiative was over budget, behind schedule, and lacked creativity. Thus, NASA's Constellation program was officially defunded, along with a substantial chunk of the organization.
It is time for humanity to resume deciphering riddles and learning more about the Moon and deeper space in general. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is committed to doing this by 2024. This is how they intend to execute the plan.
ARTEMIS, NASA's next phase of lunar exploration, is tasked with not just traveling to the Moon to establish a long-term human presence on and around it, but also preparing for increasingly difficult human journeys to Mars. In other words, whatever we need to achieve between Earth and Mars must first be accomplished between Earth and the Moon.
So, what will the Artemis mission entail?
Everything is made and tested with the astronauts, who are the most important part, in mind.
Their deep spacecraft, Orion, is made up of three parts: the crew module, where up to four astronauts will live and work during the flight; the service module, which has life support systems for the crew as well as its own engine and fuel reserves; and a launch abort system, which has engines that can pull the crew module to safety if something goes wrong during launch. NASA is building the Space Launch System (SLS), which is made up of a cargo hold, an Exploration Upper Stage, a large core stage, and two extended solid rocket boosters. The SLS will be used to launch the crew and heavy payloads. Altogether, this is the most powerful rocket in the world's history, it beats the famous Saturn V rocket from the Apollo era in many ways. Full of fuel, the rocket weighs just over 6 million pounds on the launch pad, of which 5.2 million pounds is just the fuel. All four engines and the two solid rocket boosters startup, sending the crew thundering up into the air. Two minutes after the solid rocket boosters are fired, they are no longer useful and can be let go. The core stage is used up and split off some minutes after launch. The upper stage fires for a short time, which puts Orion into a parking orbit around Earth. Here, the crew changes the spaceship's settings and checks its systems to make sure everything is ready for a trip into deep space. When Mission Control says "go," the crew restarts the engines on the Exploration Upper Stage to leave the earth for good. The exact timing of this maneuver is important to get Orion moving fast enough to escape the pull of the Earth's gravity and put it on a path that will bring it close to the Moon a few days later.
We would notice the key distinctions between Artemis and Apollo when we approach the Moon. Rather than requiring Orion to act as a disposable lunar command module or to transport a limited lunar lander, the Artemis mission will take a different route.
Commercial and international partners will pre-position everything needed for lunar missions, including rovers and science experiments
Gateway, a specialized lunar station in orbit around the Moon, is also part of the plan. The key to this strategy is to put Gateway in a special halo orbit to practice the maneuvers required for Mars missions.
When the crew returns to the Orion spacecraft after undocking from Gateway, they fire their engines to break out of the halo orbit and sling the spacecraft around the Moon once more, putting it on a multi-day trajectory back to Earth.
With the Orion approaching the earth at speeds of about 300 mph, a series of parachutes designed specifically for this mission deploy, slowing the craft down to just 20 mph for a safe splashdown.
Humanity has come a very long way in chalking laurels concerning space exploration. By our adventurous nature, we are pushed to continue demystifying the mysteries of this wonderful universe and to address basic questions of our place in the universe and the history of our solar system. We look forward to yet another brave and exciting moon mission; let us know your thoughts about it in the comments section below.
- Apollo 11 Mission Overview. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo11.html
- Retrieved from: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/artemis_plan-20200921.pdf
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