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NASA reveals plans for human return to the Moon

Published Sep 22nd, 2020 2:13PM EDT
artemis moon
Image: NASA

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  • NASA has issued a press release explaining its plans for returning humans to the Moon by 2024.
  • Two Artemis missions will launch prior to Artemis III, which will be the mission that will land on the lunar surface with astronauts aboard.
  • The timeline could change due to various delays and setbacks.

We all know that NASA intends on going back to the Moon. Preparation for the space agency’s Artemis missions has been making headlines for years now, but there were still a few unanswered questions regarding the timeline of how things would play out. The global pandemic didn’t help matters, and there have of course been some delays as a result.

Nevertheless, NASA now feels comfortable laying out what it believes will be the roadmap for getting humans back on the Moon, and it’s published the whole thing on its website. As is always the case, the data ranges NASA quotes in the post are subject to change… and they probably will.

In the press release, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is bullish on using the Moon as a sort of stepping stone to sending a crewed mission to Mars. Of course, there’s a lot that needs to go right with the Artemis missions before such a mission could even be considered.

For starters, Artemis I is expected to launch in 2021. That will be an uncrewed mission, but that will change with Artemis II, which will include a crew in 2023 but won’t actually land on the Moon. These will be considered test flights for the eventual launch of Artemis III, which will be the first to send humans back to the lunar surface. Artemis III is currently slated for launch in 2024.

NASA explains:

In 2024, Artemis III will be humanity’s return to the surface of the Moon – landing the first astronauts on the lunar South Pole. After launching on SLS, astronauts will travel about 240,000 miles to lunar orbit aboard Orion, at which point they will directly board one of the new commercial human landing systems, or dock to the Gateway to inspect it and gather supplies before boarding the landing system for their expedition to the surface.

Along the way, NASA will be sending robotic missions to the Moon that will carry a variety of payloads. Some of them will prepare lunar samples to be picked up later by crewed missions, while others will have their own scientific objectives.

“With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the Moon is well within America’s reach,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “As we’ve solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we’ve continued to refine our budget and architecture. We’re going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new a generation of explorers. As we build up a sustainable presence, we’re also building momentum toward those first human steps on the Red Planet.”

Will NASA be able to pull off this ambitious timeline? We’ll have to wait and see, but it sure would be cool.