from Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover
by Markus Motum
It’s been fifty years since Apollo 17 landed on the moon. I was still in high school. Ray Walston was “My Favorite Martian” every week on TV. Although The Tornados had fallen apart by 1965, radio stations were still playing Joe Meek’s instrumental, “Telstar” which debuted in 1962. In 1964, the Beatles came to the United States and changed music forever. It seemed like the whole world was changing.
The 1960s was a decade of social, economic, and political change.
Begun in the 1950s, the US Space Program tried hard to keep up with the Soviet Union. On April 12, 1961, just three weeks before Alan Shepard was launched out of Earth’s atmosphere, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into outer space. His feat inspired President John F. Kennedy to challenge the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): land a man safely on the moon, and bring him safely back home by the end of the decade.
Tragically, Kennedy did not live to see NASA meet his challenge. He did not hear Neil Armstrong talk about his small step or Mankind’s large one. He was not a witness, like all of us were, to the original moonwalk.
And now after more than fifty years, we’re going back.
Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon and Apollo’s twin sister, is the name chosen for this (at least) three-part mission.
As I write this on Monday morning, I’m tuned to NASA’s live coverage of the scheduled launch. It’s about 8:22 a.m. and the launch is scheduled for 8:33. The countdown was stalled a while ago, and as I watch, an update informs us that Engine 3 is experiencing a fueling bleed. The engine is part of the cooling system and is located on the bottom of the core stage of the rocket. Engineers are collecting data to help them discover the cause of the problem.
8:38 a.m. The announcement no one wanted to hear: Today’s launch is scrubbed at T-40 minutes.
The rocket is in a stable configuration and its engineers will continue to collect data. The next available opportunity to launch Artemis I will be Friday, September 2, 2022, at 12:48 p.m., but a new plan is not in place, yet. The new plan will depend on what the test data show. The launch team will make the ultimate decision.
This first Artemis mission, is uncrewed. Its six-week round trip will launch from an Orion spacecraft and will collect data as it orbits the moon on its 1.3 million mile journey. Here's its projected trajectory. Orion’s return will be faster and hotter than any spacecraft has ever experienced on its way back to Earth.
Artemis II will be a crewed flight that will take astronauts farther into space than anyone has been before. Artemis III’s goal is to land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the moon by 2025. The crew will spend a week on the surface performing scientific studies.
NASA’s ultimate goal is to make way for human exploration of Mars. “This 'Moon to Mars' plan involves building a new space station in lunar orbit and, eventually, a habitable Moon base.” (Royal Museums Greenwich)
The whole Artemis program is a NASA-led multi-year, multi-national cooperative venture between private companies and government entities.
Several reasons call scientists, engineers, and regular folks like me (and maybe you) to continue our exploration in space.
Technology developed to explore the moon and outer space has helped us innovate medical breakthroughs like insulin pumps, convenience items like freeze-dried food, and miraculous-seeming hand-held computers. By studying the lunar surface, we Earthlings can learn about the formation of our solar system. Traveling to the moon and beyond paves the way (in a figurative sense!) to exploring other planets. Reaching Mars is a goal of the Artemis program. Finally, we are all, especially the next generation, inspired and awed by the vastness of space and our ability to explore this fantastic frontier.
And isn’t our next generation who we’re all counting on? And haven’t we always counted on them?
-—be curious! (and embrace the future)