NASA’s return to the moon got off to a rough start

Five decades later, NASA plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface. Called Artemis, after Apollo’s sister in Greek mythology, the project aims to visit a new area of ​​the moon and collect new samples, this time with new faces behind the visor. sunshine—including the first woman and the first person of color.

Whether this plan will succeed — and whether a new moon landing will inspire a new “generation of Artemis” in space exploration, as NASA leadership hopes — remains to be seen. is still a matter of debate. The difference between Artemis and the Apollo program, which failed earlier than many expected, is certainly stark. Artemis was built on a vision of space exploration that was less precise, less flexible, and far less engaging than the vision that had launched Cernan and his predecessors. While Apollo was conceived and executed as an expensive monument to American ingenuity and the power of capitalism, its sister show reflects American politics and the power of inertia much. than.

Although the official show is only three years old, elements of Artemis have been in the works for years, even decades. Its ancillary projects, spread across NASA and at partner universities across the United States, in many cases existed long before the Trump administration named the program. Its origins were difficult even before fuel problems, and two hurricanes delayed its first launch in November.

Artemis has many different purposes, serving very different groups. For some space enthusiasts, it’s simply a route back to the moon, a destination that will always loom large in our collective consciousness. For others, it represents a path to Mars. Some see Artemis as a way to regain American supremacy in space, which was most clearly lost when the space shuttle retired in 2011. Still others see it as a means of opening up. a new era of scientific discovery and invention, first made during the Apollo period but believed to have begun with the first time man looked at the moon and wondered what it was.

The project’s first mission, an unmanned test flight called Artemis 1, plunged into space at midnight on November 16. It was launched into space by the most powerful rocket ever launched, Space Launch System (SLS). Towering 15 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty, the SLS consists of an orange main barrel surrounded by white boosters making it resemble the space shuttle, its predecessor in both propulsion and programming type. After several deadlines and criticism from Congress, many in the White House and NASA’s own auditors, space exploration fans, and scientists decided to return to the moon.

But overshadowing Artemis is the uncomfortable fact that the rocket, not the lunar mission it will carry out, has long been the main goal of NASA’s human spaceflight program. Exactly where that rocket is going is always secondary, and the destination has changed many times. If something goes wrong, or if SLS is deemed too expensive or unsustainable, it’s likely that the entire lunar program will fail or at least be similarly judged. This is a shaky, uncertain start to the effort to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in half a century—and could make that return, if it happens, a major setback. very short.

On February 1, 2003, the Texas sky flashed with what appeared to be a daytime meteor shower. Bright objects are pieces of space shuttles Colombia, which broke apart during its 28th re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere. As the nation mourned the seven crew members of the space shuttle, President George W. Bush began charting a new direction for NASA.

Artemis is rooted in that endeavor. In January 2004, less than a year after Colombia disaster, Bush announced a Vision for Space Exploration—reimagining the space program that called for the decommissioning of the space shuttles in 2011, sinking the International Space Station in 2016 and replacing them with a new program called Constellation. The constellation will include a new, configurable rocket capable of launching to the moon or even to Mars, named Ares; a new crew vehicle for low Earth orbit, called the Orion; and a new lunar lander, named Altair.

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