Here’s why NASA’s Artemis I mission is so rare and so remarkable

Here’s why NASA’s Artemis I mission is so rare and so remarkable

Zoom in / NASA’s Orion spacecraft descends into the Pacific Ocean after a successful mission on Sunday.


The first step on a journey is often the hardest. So it’s worth pausing for a moment to celebrate that NASA has just taken the first essential step on the path to establishing a permanent presence in deep space.

Amid a backdrop of blue skies and white clouds, the Orion spacecraft plunged into the Pacific Ocean a few hundred kilometers from the Lower Peninsula on Sunday. That ended the Artemis I mission, a 25.5-day spaceflight that proved NASA is ready to begin flying humans into deep space once again.

This has not happened in half a century. At times, it seemed like it might never happen again. But now, it definitely is passing.

NASA’s progress toward the Moon, and one day potentially Mars, has been lethargic at times. The political process that brought NASA to this point over the past few decades was messy and motivated by parochial pork projects. But there’s no denying Sunday that this process has brought NASA, the United States and dozens of other nations involved in the Artemis Program to the point where their human deep space exploration program is something very, very real

It has been a long time coming.

false starts

The last Apollo mission ended this month, in 1972. For a time, US presidents and the space agency were content to focus human exploration in low Earth orbit, with the development of the American space shuttle and plans to build a large space station.

Eventually, however, some people began to worry. On the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing in 1989, President George Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, a long-range commitment to human exploration of deep space. The plan was to complete a space station and then, at the turn of the century, for humans on the Moon to begin building a base there.

What happened next was not particularly pretty. Some people at NASA, including Administrator Dick Truly, were not entirely on board with Bush’s idea. They were worried that the lunar plans would disrupt the space station. Infamously, NASA conducted and leaked a 90-day study that suggested the Bush plan could cost half a trillion dollars or more. Since Congress wasn’t hungry for that budget, the Moon plans died.

They would lie dormant for nearly a decade and a half before being resurrected by President George W. Bush. Like his father, Bush envisioned a bold plan to send humans back to the Moon, where they would learn to operate in deep space and then go to Mars. This became the Constellation program.

This vision was well received in the aerospace community, but then three bad things happened. NASA’s new administrator, Mike Griffin, chose a large and particularly expensive architecture, the Ares I and Ares V rockets, to return humans to the Moon. International partners were largely ignored. And then neither the president nor Congress fought for the full funding the program would need to survive.

Constellation came years late, and way over budget, when President Obama canceled it in 2010. At that point, Congress stepped in and saved the Orion spacecraft, which had begun in 2005, and establish the design of a new rocket, the space launch system. . Development of these programs progressed for much of the last decade, consuming more than $30 billion, with no clear destination. That changed in late 2017 when Vice President Mike Pence announced that NASA would land humans on the moon.

This led to the formulation of the Artemis Program in 2018 and 2019. It has been far from perfect, but more than functional. Also, it was based on past failures. While the Constellation program had a purely government-led architecture, Artemis has leaned more and more into the commercial space. Artemis also tried to build international cooperation from the beginning, through a series of bilateral agreements known as the agreements of Artemisa. And as of this year, the program is fully funded.

“Fifty years ago we went as a country, as a government,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Sunday after the Orion landing. “Today we are not only going with international partners, but with commercial partners. It is the beginning of the new beginning.”

A rare lineup

A myriad of technical challenges lie ahead for the Artemis program, including the development and testing of SpaceX’s Starship lunar lander complex and Axiom’s work on spacesuits capable of operating in the lunar environment. Both contracts, awarded in 2021 and 2022 respectively, will likely require time and patience to come to fruition.

None of this will happen quickly. Artemis II is it is unlikely to fly before 2025and the actual lunar landing mission won’t come until later this decade, perhaps in 2027 or 2028.

But taking the long view is instructive here. The other two post-Apollo space programs failed because they lacked political support, funding, or both. Artemis is different. It has political support and funding. Amazingly, virtually every aspect of the space policy firmament—the White House, Congress, international allies, the traditional aerospace, commercial space, and space defense community—has aligned with the goals generals of Artemis.

This kind of support hasn’t existed for a program like this since the 1960s and Apollo. And that fervor only crystallized in the crucible of national tragedy that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. There has been nothing quite like this unifying event for Artemis. Rather, elements of this program have had to survive through four different and very opposing administrations, from Bush to Obama to Trump to Biden.

“You see a nation divided by partisanship,” Nelson said. “That doesn’t exist here. NASA is non-partisan. Both the Rs and the Ds come together to support us.”

Surprisingly, then, politics is in order. Now it’s about technical execution. Engineering is hard, but at least it’s based on reason, unlike space politics. Artemis I has proven to be a technical success. Think SpaceX can’t make a rocket to land on the moon? Or Axiom, working with a NASA design, can’t make spacesuits to keep lunar dust at bay?

They certainly can, and they will.

Lack of coordination?

NASA is also taking steps to address one of the last major problems with Artemis, the lack of coordination. The Johnson Space Center in Houston is responsible for Orion and astronaut training. The Marshall Space Flight Center in northern Alabama builds the SLS rocket and manages development of the lunar lander. The Kennedy Space Center launches the missions.

As a result, several organizations and outside advisers have criticized NASA for the lack of a “program office” to coordinate the myriad elements that will go into the Artemis mission.

For example, the Office of the Inspector General of NASA recently declared, “Unlike the first manned missions to the lunar surface under the Apollo Program, NASA does not have a NASA program director overseeing the Artemis missions or a prime contractor, as in the Space Shuttle Program, to serve as the primary systems integrator.” The concern is that without this official, the program would lack cohesion and struggle for influence.

However, such an office is coming. Mike Sarafin, the senior NASA engineer who successfully served as mission manager for Artemis I, will become the “mission development manager” for Artemis III. In an interview, Sarafin said that an office in the Artemis program remains in the development stages and that he did not want to discuss the details yet. However, it appears that his role will involve overall planning and coordination for the lunar surface flight complex, bringing together the SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft and Human Landing System programs under one roof.

Sarafin seems like an excellent choice to lead the development of Artemis III. He guided the Artemis I mission through countless delays, overcoming challenges with liquid hydrogen fuel and not one but two hurricanes in the weeks before the mission finally took flight. And yet, through it all, he and his team brought home a spacecraft in good condition, meeting or exceeding all of their splashy goals on Sunday.

Another criticism of Artemis is that it simply repeats the Apollo program. If Artemis wears out after a few missions, then those criticisms are well deserved. However, given the broad base of support for what is happening today, NASA now has a credible path not only to exploring the South Pole of the Moon, but to learning how to live and work in deep space and ultimately , send humans further into the Solar. system

“We did the impossible there, making it possible,” Nelson said of Apollo. “Now, we’re doing it again, but with a different purpose. This time we’re going back to the Moon to learn to live, to work, to create.”

The greatest achievement imaginable for Artemis would be that she has a permanence that was not enjoyed during the age of Apollo. In light of this weekend’s success, NASA has such a future. They and their partners just need to continue to execute as brilliantly as they have for the past month.

#Heres #NASAs #Artemis #mission #rare #remarkable

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