NASA, the U.S. space agency, says humans should be able to live on the moon for longer periods this very decade based on the successful launch of the Artemis 1 spacecraft.
Howard Hu, the leader of the Orion lunar spacecraft program for NASA, said watching Artemis lift off was “an unbelievable feeling” and “a dream,” adding that “it’s the first step we’re taking to long-term deep space exploration…not just [for] the United States but for the world.”
Hu, however, indicated that certain conditions would need to be made available to support scientific missions and stressed that the Artemis Wednesday launch was a “historic day for human space flight.”
This unmanned Orion spacecraft, equipped with a manikin which will register the impacts of the flight on the human body, is currently about 134,000 kilometers (83,300 miles) from the Moon.
Orion to land humans on Moon for longer stay
According to Hu, the Orion lunar spacecraft is currently in space although it’s unmanned for this mission. It is the same vehicle that will carry humans back to the moon once again.
He said, “We are going back to the Moon, [and] we’re working towards a sustainable [program]…this is the vehicle that will carry the people that will land us back on the Moon again.”
Hu explained that if the current Artemis flight is successful, then the next will be with a crew—followed by a third in which astronauts would land on the Moon again for the first time since the Apollo Moon mission fifty years ago.
He told reporters that the current mission was proceeding well with all systems working. The mission team is preparing for the next firing of Orion’s engines, which is known as a burn, around lunchtime on Monday to put the spacecraft into a distant orbit of the Moon.
He admitted that watching the mission from Earth was not unlike being an anxious parent, but seeing the images and videos from Orion “really gives that excitement and feeling of, ‘wow, we are headed back to the Moon.'”
Safety of Artemis key to living on Moon this decade
Returning the Orion module safely back to Earth is one of the most critical phases of the Artemis I mission.
It will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at 38,000 kilometers per hour (24,000 mph), or 32 times the speed of sound. The shield on its underside will be subjected to temperatures approaching three thousand degrees Celsius.
According to Hu, the plan is to have humans living on the Moon “in this decade.” Therefore, once the safety of Artemis’ components and systems has been tested and proven, the plan can be realized.
He added that one of the main reasons for going back to the Moon is to discover whether there is water on the south pole. If so, this could be converted to provide fuel for craft going deeper into space, such as to Mars, for example.
“We’re going to be sending people down to the surface and they’re going to be living on that surface and doing science, [so] it’s really going to be very important for us to learn a little bit beyond our Earth’s orbit and then do a big step when we go to Mars,” he said.
Howard Hu says “the Artemis missions enable us to have a sustainable platform and transportation system that [allow] us to learn how to operate in that deep space environment.”