A New Chapter in Space Exploration

Issue 7, Volume 112

By Subaah Syed 

Cover Image

We are all familiar with the quote “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” one of the most famous lines in the twentieth century said by Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Armstrong was one of the three astronauts in the Apollo 11 crew that sent the first humans to the moon in 1969. Broadcast on TV, the event was a turning point not only for space exploration, but for human history, with an estimated 650 million people tuning in to watch. Despite the attention garnered by Apollo 11, it was just one of a series of missions in NASA’s Apollo program, designed to put humans on the moon and retrieve lunar data. From the Apollo program, 12 astronauts succeeded in landing on the moon and coming back to Earth, bringing along with them a great amount of scientific data, including nearly 400 kilograms of lunar samples.

The last human to walk on the moon was Eugene Cernan, commander of Apollo 17, in 1972. After Apollo 17, NASA did not receive enough funding for more expeditions and the American public believed humans were done with their business on the moon—we had retrieved enough data and had beaten the Soviet Union in the Space Race. However, 50 years later, we realize that human presence on the moon is far from being over. Through the Artemis Program, named after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, NASA plans to send humans to the Moon again, allowing humans to leave a longer lasting footprint on the lunar surface.

The Artemis Program focuses on continuing the goals of the Apollo missions by not just sending humans to the moon, but also by establishing a permanent presence on the lunar surface. This initiative is a result of the Trump administration’s Space Policy Directive 1 created in 2017, which formally set the goal of reaching the moon by 2024 and landing on Mars at a later date. This program is not to purely further scientific discovery, though. A significant incentive behind this action is winning the modern space war between the US and China since China has already set up an ambitious manned program to send astronauts to the moon as well. Similar to the space war between the US and USSR in the late 20th century, today’s space race will once again involve two global superpowers committing their technological and financial resources toward advancements in space exploration. Ultimately, one goal of the Artemis Program is to solidify America's dominance globally and in space.

The strategy of the Artemis Program to bring people back to the moon include three parts: the launch vehicle, spacecraft, and ground support systems. The launch vehicle, called the Orion capsule, is necessary to support and carry the crew during flight. The Space Launch System rocket is planned to be the most powerful rocket developed and will be the only rocket capable of sending the Orion capsule to space. Lastly, the Exploration Ground Systems will allow for the launching of the rockets and spacecraft in this feat.

Following that, NASA’s Artemis program aims to continue research on space exploration on the lunar surface and establish sustainable structures on the moon. One such undertaking is the Artemis Base Camp, which is planned to be put up on the South Pole of the moon for the means of establishing long-term scientific and economic activity on the moon as well as breaking ground for the future Mars mission. New instruments will be used to test the feasibility of the extraction of resources, such as water and naturally occurring minerals and compounds, that will permit permanent human life on the moon and even add to Earth’s supply of these minerals. Overall, the program attempts to make living on the moon a jump pad, acting as an intermediate stop and improving humans’ deep space capabilities as we prepare to go to Mars and beyond.

The Artemis Program, despite political differences, has continued under the Biden administration. Recently, though, the deadline for landing on the moon has been pushed back to 2025 due to resources and time limitations as well as the handling of political disagreements, where some politicians are reluctant to support further funding for the program. The COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to the postponement of the deadline as supply chains were weakened and people could not be on-site to be fully involved in the project. With the need for developing the innovative spacecraft necessary to safely and effectively land humans on the moon comes the call for a substantial budget and increased funding. Considering the outline that the Artemis program has for the mission, the budget would add up to be about 25 billion dollars.

Though the deadline was pushed back, NASA is optimistic about its schedule for the Artemis Program. The one extra year will give them more time to develop and improve on their space technology and, thus, ensure a more accurate and effective system to go to the moon. It is safe to say that this generation of space exploration is a hopeful one. With assistance from the federal government and support from the public, we should be able to continue the legacy of the past century and begin a new chapter in NASA.