Last week, NASA launched its long-awaited Artemis 1 flight, the first of many missions to establish a human presence on and around the Moon. But even though this is only the beginning of this long mission, an official says that big steps can be seen soon.
Howard Hu, program manager of the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis 1 flight, told the BBC the agency plans to put humans on the Moon as soon as possible.
“Certainly in this decade, we’re going to be people’s [on the moon], ” he told the BBC. “Duration, you know, how long we’ll be on the surface. They’ll be living, they’ll have habitats and they’ll have rovers on the ground. … So, not only are we able to do the work of getting people to the Moon, getting people to the surface of the Moon, but they still have to have the infrastructure.”
But ultimately, he said, “it’s more than living — it’s really about science.”
“We’re going to send people down to the surface and they’re going to stay on that surface and do science,” he said.
The current Artemis I mission is a four- to six-week unmanned endeavor in which the Orion spacecraft will travel to the Moon, eventually reaching about 62 miles above its surface before the Moon’s gravity pulls it into its orbit. The data and information it collects will be used for future flights with humans – a mission called Artemis II that is expected to launch in 2023.
It’s the mission after that, though, Artemis III, where the crew will actually get to touch the surface of the Moon. When this happens, it will be the first time since 1972 that humans will be on the Moon.
A key reason for the initiative, Hu told the BBC, is to see if there is water at the Moon’s south pole that could be converted into potential fuel to propel spacecraft deeper into space. This could be particularly beneficial in Mars research, he said.
“It’s going to be really important for us to learn a little bit from our Earth orbit and then take a big step forward when we go to Mars,” Hu told the BBC. “And the Artemis mission enables us to have a sustainable platform and transportation system that allows us to learn how to operate in that deep space environment.”
The current Artemis I mission — the key to making it all happen — is going well, he told the outlet.
According to NASA, on Monday the Orion spacecraft made its closest fly-by of the moon, going about 80 miles above its surface at more than 5,100 miles per hour. The craft has just one more maneuver to enter the farthest retrograde orbit of the Moon, which it is expected to perform on Friday.
Hu said all of this is being done with the ultimate goal of trying to provide a “basis” for life in space.
“These are the stepping stones that hopefully it will allow for future capability,” he said. “…and make those opportunities an option for our children and our grandchildren and their children.”