Artemis is our first step towards the colonization of space

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 16, NASA successfully launched the first test of its Artemis I space launch system. Because the launch was repeatedly postponed by technical issues or inclement weather, it was feared that misfortune hangs over the mission. Aside from the $4.1 billion price tag attached to that launch alone, the setbacks had commentators wondering what exactly was the point of all this effort.

But while there are valid criticisms — for example, of NASA not including reusable launch technologies — naysayers are missing a larger, vital point. The Artemis program goes well beyond this single launch. It is about the long-term future of humanity.

The Path to Lunar Citizenship

Artemis is an ambitious program that includes a number of landmark lenses and technologies. The first is the Space Launch System. While its appearance seems to borrow from the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket, there’s more to it. The system is a heavy lifting machine designed to detonate payloads weighing over one hundred tons in lunar orbit or beyond. This will be the workhorse of Artemis’ space infrastructure plans far beyond Earth orbit.

The Orion spacecraft is the next piece of the Artemis program. Crews of up to six astronauts will use Orion for long missions traveling to the Moon. Next is the Lunar Gateway space station. Orbiting the Moon once a week on a long, narrow trajectory that will oscillate in a 1,500 km halo 70,000 km from the surface, the Lunar Gateway will be a research hub and staging area for astronauts, as well as a kind of garage for equipment park destined for the surface of the Moon. To reach the surface itself, Artemis will use the Starship human landing system. This SpaceX project will take humans to and from the Moon using the massive Starship high-capacity rocket. The destination of these astronauts is the most exciting part of the goals of the Artemis program. The plan is to eventually establish a permanent lunar base near the lunar south pole, where water most likely resides in the shadows of craters.

Artemis will take us beyond the Moon

It should be noted that Artemis is a public, private and international effort. It brings together the space agencies of the United States, Japan, Europe and Canada. The robotic HERACLES lander, a large part of the Artemis infrastructure for the resupply of the lunar base, will be developed by the other space agencies.

So why is all of this important? We’ve been to the moon before. Why do we have to go back?

Well, there’s more to Artemis than just going to the Moon. What Artemis will do is take the first steps towards building expansion infrastructure in the solar system. Human beings haven’t left Earth’s orbit for 50 years, but even so, the real action for the future is beyond the Moon. To become a real space species, we must learn to travel all the terrain we find among the planets. This is where the real opportunities lie.

Imagine humanity surviving climate change – that we have at least as much time ahead of us as we have lived since, say, the Roman Empire. What are we going to do? Where is our future? The answer undoubtedly lies in the solar system. We are going to expand into every nook and cranny we can find on Mars, the moons of the large gas giant planets, and the floating habitats. We will expand, explore and build, because that is what we have always done. We will create new societies and experiment with new social forms that will hopefully allow more freedom, equality, justice and expression. And we’ll do all of this in a way that enhances Earth’s precious biosphere – once you get there, it becomes clear that Earth is truly precious.

Artemis, with its heavy launch vehicles, lunar-orbiting space stations and permanent lunar base, is much more than the Moon. It’s about everything beyond the Moon. It is about what the next hundreds or even thousands of years of the future of humanity will be like. It is about all that we can and must become.

And it all started on Wednesday, from the LC-39B launch pad, around 2 a.m.

About Lucille Thompson

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