On September 12, 1962, US President John F. Kennedy announced his intention to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
In the midst of the Cold War, the United States needed a major victory to prove its supremacy in space after the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite and put the first human into orbit.
“We decided to go to the moon, because it is a challenge that we are willing to accept, we are not ready to put off, and we intend to meet,” Kennedy told 40,000 people at Rice University.
Sixty years later, the United States is about to send the first mission of its space program to the Moon: Artemis. But why do we repeat something that has already been done?
Criticisms have emerged in recent years, for example from Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins and founder of the non-profit Mars Society, Robert Zubrin, who have long advocated the United States heading directly to Mars.
But NASA says restoring the moon is a must before traveling to the red planet. These are their arguments:
Long space missions
NASA wants to develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with missions lasting several weeks, compared to the few days of the Apollo program. The goal: to better understand how to prepare for a multi-year round trip to Mars.
In deep space, radiation is more intense and poses a real threat to health.
Low Earth orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) operates, is partially shielded from radiation by the Earth’s magnetic field, which is not the case on the Moon.
Since the first Artemis mission, several experiments have been planned to study the effect of radiation on living organisms, and to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-radiation jackets.
Moreover, while supplies can be brought regularly to the International Space Station, doing so for flights to the Moon, a thousand times away, is more complicated.
To avoid having to move everything, and thus reduce costs, NASA wants to know how to use the resources on the surface. Specifically, water in the form of ice, the presence of which has been confirmed at the south pole of the Moon, which can be converted into fuel (water consists of oxygen and hydrogen used by rockets).
Try new clothes and equipment
NASA also wants to test technologies on the Moon that will continue to develop on Mars. First of all, new spacewalk suits.
Axiom Space has been commissioned to design the first mission to land on the Moon, as early as 2025.
It is also essential that the vehicles (pressurized or unpressurized) be ready for astronaut movement, as well as housing.
Finally, for sustainable access to an energy source, NASA is developing portable nuclear fission systems.
Any problems that appear will be much easier to solve on the Moon, after only a few days, than on Mars, where it takes several months to get there.
Set a hotspot
One of the main goals of the Artemis program is to build a space station in lunar orbit, called Gateway, that will serve as a stopover before traveling to Mars.
Sean Fuller, director of the Gateway Program, told AFP that all necessary equipment could be sent there on “several launches”, before the crew finally arrived for departure. “Sort of stopping at the gas station to make sure you have all your stuff, and then you’re on your way.”
Maintain superiority over China
Aside from Mars, another reason Americans pay to settle on the Moon is to do so before the Chinese.
Whereas in the 1960s the space race was between the United States and Russia, today the biggest competitor is Beijing. China plans to send humans to the moon by 2030.
“We don’t want China to suddenly go in there and say, ‘This is our private land,'” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a recent interview.
for the sake of science
Although the Apollo missions brought nearly 400 kilograms of lunar rock to Earth, the new samples will deepen our understanding of this celestial body and its composition.
“The samples we collected during the Apollo missions changed the way we see our solar system,” astronaut Jessica Meir told AFP. “I think we can expect that from the Artemis program as well.”
Meir also expects tangible benefits on Earth, in technology, engineering, etc., as happened during the Apollo era.