If we’re ever going to make Elon Musk’s imaginative and prescient of colonizing Mars a actuality, we first want to determine an integral part of the plan: the right way to get there. In any case, it’s someplace between 34 and 140 million miles away from Earth. The moon is barely spitting distance nearer, comparatively talking—nevertheless it’s a begin. Extra importantly, it’s the place most just like Mars that people are at the moment in a position to attain (in that it’s barren, desolate, and never Earth).

That’s only one cause NASA is planning to construct a brand new lunar base camp. In a report launched final week, the company laid out its multi-phase plan for what it’s calling the Artemis program, which would be the core of its spaceflight and exploration endeavors for the subsequent decade. Artemis’s targets cowl three domains: low-Earth orbit, the moon, and Mars.

All of it begins with robots. In 2021, two robotic missions will ship scientific and industrial payloads to the moon. In one of many undertaking’s extra meta points, a robotic mission can even ship a brand new robotic lunar rover. It’s referred to as the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER, thank goodness for acronyms), and it has the phrase “polar” in it as a result of that is all going to be primarily based on the moon’s south pole, someplace close to the 12-mile-wide by 2-mile-deep Shackleton Crater. VIPER and different lunar rovers will wander across the moon’s floor searching for assets people will want with a view to spend any important period of time there, like oxygen and water.

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Talking of placing people on the moon—which is slated to occur in 2024—right here’s how it will work. 4 astronauts at a time would fly in an Orion spacecraft to the deliberate Gateway area station (form of just like the moon’s model of the Worldwide House Station, and SpaceX can be one among varied contractors bringing cargo to it). After uncrewed and crewed flight exams—Artemis I and II, respectively, whose flight distances will collectively whole nearly one million miles—Artemis III would be the mission that lastly lands people on the moon.

As soon as they’re there, NASA envisions astronauts staying on the moon for as much as per week at a time to begin. The south pole base camp they’ll dock at will embody a lunar terrain automobile (in case you’re picturing a moon model of an ATV, you’re in all probability not too far off) for them to maneuver round in, and a “liveable mobility platform,” basically a a lot bigger pressurized automobile on which astronauts may keep for 45 days at a time.

As soon as operations on the moon are expanded and astronauts can keep there for longer (will we ever find yourself with one thing resembling the 2019 movie Advert Astra, the place arrivals to the moon are greeted with a strip mall full with McDonald’s?), the Mars piece of the Artemis plan would kick in.

Simply as robots will ship robots to the moon earlier than people go there, the identical would subsequently occur on Mars: robots first, people later.

One concept is for a four-person crew to reside on the Gateway station for just a few months to simulate an outbound journey to Mars, with two of these crew members then touring to the lunar floor whereas the opposite two keep on the Gateway. After the 2 moon explorers return to the station, all 4 crew members would hunker down for one more multi-month keep there to simulate the return journey to Earth. And also you thought being shut in your home for just a few weeks was unhealthy…

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And right here’s one remaining element to learn about undertaking Artemis. In a (hard-won) nod to gender equality, this system was named after the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon. In Greek mythology, Artemis was the dual sister of Apollo, for whom the primary moon mission was named (and memorialized by Tom Hanks for these of us who weren’t alive on the time). NASA selected the identify Artemis as a gesture of inclusion; the company intends to land the primary lady on the moon as a part of this multi-faceted undertaking.

You possibly can learn all of the specifics of undertaking Artemis right here.

Picture Credit score: NASA