10 Sep 2022, 09:14

Why go back to the Moon?

WASHINGTON, Sept 10, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - On September 12, 1962, then US
president John F Kennedy informed the public of his plan to put a man on the
Moon by the end of the decade.

It was the height of the Cold War and America needed a big victory to
demonstrate its space superiority after the Soviet Union had launched the
first satellite and put the first man in orbit.

"We choose to go to the Moon," Kennedy told 40,000 people at Rice University,
"because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are
unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

Sixty years on, the United States is about to launch the first mission of its
return program to the Moon, Artemis. But why repeat what has already been

Criticism has risen in recent years, for example from Apollo 11 astronaut
Michael Collins, and the Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, who have long
advocated for America to go directly to Mars.

But NASA argues re-conquering the Moon is a must before a trip to the Red
Planet. Here's why.

- Long space missions -

NASA wants to develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with missions
lasting several weeks -- compared to just a few days for Apollo.

The goal: to better understand how to prepare for a multi-year round trip to

In deep space, radiation is much more intense and poses a real threat to

Low Earth Orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) operates, is
partly shielded from radiation by the Earth's magnetic field, which isn't the
case on the Moon.

From the first Artemis mission, many experiments are planned to study the
impact of this radiation on living organisms, and to assess the effectiveness
of an anti-radiation vest.

What's more, while the ISS can often be resupplied, trips to the Moon -- a
thousand times further -- are much more complex.

To avoid having to take everything with them, and to save costs, NASA wants
to learn how to use the resources present on the surface.

In particular, water in the form of ice, which has been confirmed to exist on
the lunar south pole, could be transformed into rocket fuel by cracking it
into its separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

- Testing new gear -

NASA also wants to pilot on the Moon the technologies that will continue to
evolve on Mars. First, new spacesuits for spacewalks.

Their design was entrusted to the company Axiom Space for the first mission
which will land on the Moon, in 2025 at the earliest.

Other needs: vehicles -- both pressurized and unpressurized -- so that the
astronauts can move around, as well as habitats.

Finally, for sustainable access to an energy source, NASA is working on the
development of portable nuclear fission systems.

Solving any problems that arise will be much easier on the Moon, only a few
days away, than on Mars, which can only be reached in at least several

- Establishing a waypoint -

A major pillar of the Artemis program is the construction of a space station
in orbit around the Moon, called Gateway, which will serve as a relay before
the trip to Mars.

All the necessary equipment can be sent there in "multiple launches," before
finally being joined by the crew to set off on the long voyage, Sean Fuller,
responsible for the Gateway program, told AFP.

"Kind of like you're stopping at your gas station to make sure you get all
the stuff, and then you're off on your way."

- Maintaining leadership over China -

Apart from Mars, another reason put forward by the Americans for settling on
the Moon is to do so before the Chinese, who plan to send taikonauts by the
year 2030.

China is the United States' main competition today as the once proud Russian
space program has withered.

"We don't want China suddenly getting there and saying, "This is our
exclusive territory,'" NASA boss Bill Nelson said in a recent interview.

- For the sake of science -

While the Apollo missions brought back to Earth nearly 400 kilograms of lunar
rock, new samples will make it possible to further deepen our knowledge of
this celestial object and its formation.

"The samples that we collected during the Apollo missions changed the way we
view our solar system," astronaut Jessica Meir told AFP. "I think we can
expect that from the Artemis program as well."

She expects further scientific and technological breakthroughs too, just like
during the Apollo era.


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