After the failed attempt at the end of August due to hydrogen leaks and the successive complications related to Ian (the hurricane in Florida), NASA launched Artemis I. At 1:48 in the morning, from the Kennedy Space Center, the mission that will seek to conquer the Moon once more in the story. This will be a key step: If all goes well with this unmanned test trip, around 2025, the next flight will carry the first woman on long-term exploration stays. In short, it is about knowing in depth what the natural satellite hides about the unrevealed mysteries of the solar system. But the horizon is not in this decade but in the next one: as postulated by former president Barack Obama the goal is to conquer Mars in 2033.
Artemis I is made up of the SLS (Space Launch System) space launch rocket – a 98-meter-tall monster – and the Orion spacecraft. Its objective is to travel to the Moon and back: according to the expected trajectory, it will travel a total distance of 2 million kilometers, at an average –at times– of 39,000 kilometers per hour and will consume approximately 409,000 liters of liquid hydrogen and oxygen per minute. It has the possibility of transporting four crew members and the corresponding reserves of water and oxygen to survive for 20 days. Although it is an unmanned flight, it will carry souvenirs: Legos, USB sticks with greetings and wishes from all humanity, Snoopy the dog, pins and tree seeds, among more than 10,000 curiosities on board.
“It’s a test-and-play mission. It is the first time that this rocket will be used, which has many similarities in size and power with Saturn V, from the time of Apollo. The journey consists of two stages: the rocket will take the Orion capsule to Earth orbit and once it does, it will detach and fall into the ocean; then the ship will reach the Moon from a final push ”, he explains Diego Cordova, journalist specialized in astronomy and author of the book Huellas en la Luna. Then he continues with the choreographic detail that the ship will follow: “It will not carry out a conventional lunar travel orbit, but will carry out a route similar to that thought for interplanetary flights. It is a kind of training of the maneuvers that, in the future, will be necessary to go to Mars. After about 37-42 days, the capsule will splash down in the Pacific Ocean.
On board the capsule travels a complete mannequin dressed in the space suit, similar to the one that the astronauts will use in the following missions. He was named Commander Moonikin Campos, after Houston engineer Campos, whose role was instrumental in the recovery of Apollo XIII in 1970.”The mannequin is equipped with sensors that will allow the group of experts from NASA to detect vibrations and measure radiation that, depending on the levels, may affect humans in future trips.says Cordova.
The Moon as a service station
Once the operational problems (engine failures) and adverse weather conditions (storms and winds, associated with the hurricane) have been overcome, Artemis I took off from Cape Canaveral successfully. It is worth noting that the delays in the missions meant bad news for the North American space agency: according to estimates, the change in plans generated a loss of 4 billion dollars. However, when it comes to events of this magnitude, prudence is the rule.
Now, the question arises: Why go to the Moon before going to Mars? Could the natural satellite be used as a service station for human ships before the great interplanetary journey? Córdova comments that this mission intends to explore the lunar South Pole, a region little studied by the Apollo Program in previous decades. “There could be water in large quantities and minerals, key components that function as fuel. In the not too distant future, the Moon could become a kind of space service station for humans to conquer other planets in the solar system more frequently.
Going to the Moon will also work as training for the larger goal. NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik He describes it with a metaphor: “When camping in the Alaskan wilderness, you don’t trust new gear and shoes you haven’t used yet. Mars is also not the place to try new equipment for the first time. You should first go to some nearby places first. Then it is possible to go home if the shoelaces break or something like that.”
Space (again) as a scenario of geopolitical competition
The US space agency once again uses its scientific and technological capabilities as another example of progress and hegemony over the rest of the world powers. Throughout history, trips to the Moon and the conquest of space have served as an exhibition to the world of the geopolitical position that different nations occupied. For this reason, it is no coincidence that the United States is relaunching its space race.
After World War II, the race between the US and the USSR served as a spearhead for both blocs to justify their supremacy in the bipolar world. Both nations chose to suspend the armed confrontation but the conflict was taking place on all fronts in a tacit manner. Thus, they disputed the throne to place their first men in space, conquer the Moon and climb to the top of the scientific-technological podium. The Apollo Program began in 1960, but its lines of action were substantially modified a year later, when the then president, John F. Kennedy, expressed his intention to “conquer the Moon as soon as possible.”
With the misfortune of Apollo I in 1967 (orbital test failed and the death of its three crew members) and the experience accumulated with Apollo VIII, IX and X (which went around the Moon and returned) all hope was placed on the XI, which set off with great fanfare from Cape Kennedy, Florida, on the morning (9:32 a.m. US time, 10:32 a.m. Argentina time) of July 16, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and company went down in history.
Humans traveled to the Moon five more times. The success of Apollo XI was followed by Apollo XII, XIV, XV, XVI and XVII (the latter carried out in 1972 as a corollary to the Program). And, although Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins remained etched in the retina and popular memory, there were actually 12 astronauts who were lucky enough to walk on the Moon. “The rhythm of trips to the Moon was cut off because funding was limited. They are projects that cannot be carried out as often, because they become unsustainable over time. In the 60’s and 70’s it didn’t matter because the main thing was to win the competition against the Soviet Union, but once the objective was met the initiative was suspended”, says the specialist.
The start of a new space race
In the present, the competitor joining the space race is China. His space program has been whistling for decades and in a short time – by 2026, it is claimed – he will send his own manned mission to the Moon. It even has an original concept to name its space captains: neither astronauts (like the US), nor cosmonauts (like Russia) but “taikonauts”.
At the beginning of July, Bill Nelson, the director of NASA, assured that China and Russia had the goal of “taking over the Moon”. In this way, the eastern giant joins as a competitor. “We must be very concerned that China lands on the Moon to say: now it is ours and you cannot come,” Nelson declared. In fact, the former senator assured that by 2035 both countries would seek to finish building a lunar base.
“China has also set its sights on the lunar South Pole. But this is not new: it has sustained exploration with wheeled vehicles. Together with Russia, they signed an exploration agreement for this region, with which, it is expected that at some point they will announce their first manned missions,” says Córdova. And she ends by revealing his enthusiasm: “We are at the door of a new space race”.
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