AFP, published on Saturday, September 10, 2022 at 07:13
On September 12, 1962, United States President John F. Kennedy set a goal for the United States: to send astronauts to the Moon before the end of the decade.
“We chose to go to the Moon (…) not because it is easy, but because it is difficult,” he declared then in the midst of the Cold War, during a founding speech delivered at Rice University, Texas.
Sixty years later, the United States is about to launch the first mission of its return program to the Moon, Artemis. But why repeat what has already been done?
Criticism has mounted in recent years, for example from Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who accused NASA of not thinking big enough by not aiming directly at Mars.
But for the US space agency, the Moon is essential before a trip to the red planet. These are their main arguments:
– Learn to live far away –
NASA wants to develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with missions lasting several weeks, compared to just a few days for Apollo. The goal: to better understand how to prepare for a multi-year round trip to Mars.
In deep space, space radiation is much more intense and poses a real threat to health. Low orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) operates, is partially protected by the Earth’s magnetic field, which is not the case on the Moon.
Since the first Artemis mission, many experiments are planned to study the impact of this radiation on living organisms, or to test the effectiveness of an anti-radiation jacket.
Also, while the ISS can often be refueled, trips to the Moon (located 1000 times farther away) are much more complex. To avoid having to transport everything, and thus reduce costs, NASA wants to learn how to use the resources present on the surface. Specifically, water in the form of ice, whose existence has been confirmed at the South Pole of the Moon, and which could be transformed into fuel (water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen, which are used by rockets).
– Test the equipment –
NASA also wants to test the technologies on the Moon that will allow it to evolve on Mars.
First, new spacesuits for spacewalking. The design of it was entrusted to the company Axiom Space for the first mission that will land on the Moon, at the earliest in 2025.
Other needs: vehicles (pressurized or not) for the movement of astronauts, as well as housing.
Finally, for sustainable access to an energy source, NASA is working on the development of portable nuclear fission systems.
Solving any problems that arise will be much easier on the Moon, just a few days away, than on Mars, which can only be reached in at least several months.
– Stage on the way to Mars –
Another part of the Artemis program is the construction of a space station in orbit around the Moon, called Gateway, which will serve as a relay before the trip to Mars.
All the necessary equipment can be sent there in “several launches”, before finally being joined by the crew to leave, Sean Fuller, responsible for the Gateway program, explains to AFP. A bit like “going to the gas station to check that we have everything”.
– Not to be outdone by China –
Aside from Mars, another reason Americans give for settling on the Moon is to do so…before the Chinese.
While in the 1960s the space race was between the United States and Russia, today the great competitor is Beijing. China plans to send humans to the moon by 2030.
“We don’t want China to go over there and say ‘this is our territory,'” NASA chief Bill Nelson said on television in late August.
– Expansion of scientific knowledge –
Finally, although the Apollo missions brought nearly 400 kilograms of lunar rock to Earth, new samples will further deepen our understanding of this star and its formation.
“The samples collected during Apollo changed our view of the solar system,” astronaut Jessica Meir told AFP. “And that will continue with Artemis.”
Thanks to the investments and scientific enthusiasm generated by these new missions, it also anticipates concrete benefits on Earth (technologies, engineering, etc.), as in the days of Apollo.