The Journey to the Moon and Beyond in 2023 with the Artemis Program

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal?

And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain?

Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon.

We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

John F. Kennedy speech
Source: Houston Chronicles

With these resounding words, President John F. Kennedy kindled a spark that would ignite a colossal endeavor, forever etching humanity’s imprint on the lunar landscape.

In September 1962, Kennedy cast a challenge to NASA that would propel mankind to the Moon’s embrace before the end of the 1960s.

Yet, neither Kennedy nor the world comprehended the magnitude of what lay ahead. It marked a pivotal point where aspiration converged with innovation: the beginning of the journey to the moon and beyond.

The History of our Journey to the Moon: Apollo 11

apollo 11 moon landing
Credit: NASA

At that point, NASA had already made history in space exploration.

In November 1961, they had orchestrated the orbit of a chimpanzee, and a mere few months later, in February 1962, Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, a feat that sparked humanity’s imagination.

But these triumphs paled in comparison to the audacious gauntlet thrown down by Kennedy – to land on the Moon.

It was a goal that combined efforts, harnessed innovation and embarked on an odyssey that would be etched in history.

The transition from Earth’s orbit to the desolate lunar surface was an endeavor unlike any other.

In the end, the Apollo program, a testament to seven years of unwavering dedication and monumental investments, ultimately upheld Kennedy’s promise.

The New Journey to the Moon: Artemis 2

artemis 2 crew for the journey to the moon
Credit: NASA

As the second decade of the 21st century unfolds, we find ourselves on the cusp of a renewed moon landing.

Artemis 2, a mission of NASA’s Artemis program, stands as a chance for our return to lunar orbit after half a century’s intermission.

The crew – a group composed of Christina Hammock Cook, the first woman to grace the Moon;

Victor Glover, the first person of color on a lunar mission; Jeremy Hance, the first Canadian to transcend low Earth orbit; and Mission Commander Reed Wiseman – is set to script another chapter in lunar exploration.

In a mission of precision, Artemis 2 is set to sail past every human venture into space.

To appreciate the magnitude of this odyssey, consider that a trans-lunar injection orbit, the route taken by Artemis 2, dwarfs even the most routine trips to the International Space Station (ISS).

The standard method of ferrying humans into space involves SpaceX’s crew Dragon capsule atop the Falcon 9 rocket.

With around 1.7 million pounds of thrust, Falcon 9 propels the crew capsule to meet the ISS at a relatively modest altitude of about 260 miles above Earth’s surface.

space launch system
Credit: NASA

However, Artemis 2’s launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS), has a thrust over 5 times the thrust of the Falcon 9.

The SLS, a colossal rocket generating a staggering 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, marks a 15 percent power increase over the Saturn V rocket that propelled the original Apollo program.

This immense thrust is imperative, considering the intricate interplay of factors involved.

Loaded with a hefty payload – the 22-ton Orion spacecraft Artemis 2 demands the unparalleled force of a rocket that can ascend 500 vertical feet in just 7 seconds.

The Artemis 2 Mission Timeline

artemis 2 mission timeline for the journey to the moon and beyond.
Credit: NASA

The Launch

As Artemis 2 soars skyward, the spectacle of its ascent features the spectacle of its components parting ways.

Solid rocket boosters relinquish their thrust and detach, yielding the stage to the core stage with its liquid hydrogen-powered RS-25 engines.

For the next 6 minutes, this core stage propels Artemis 2 onward, piercing through Earth’s upper atmosphere and hurtling toward orbital velocity.

As the spacecraft journeys further into space, gravity’s effect becomes weaker, leading to the detachment of the service module fairings and launch abort system.

With these extraneous parts discarded, the crew inside Orion is granted its first unfiltered glimpse of the boundless expanse beyond.

Space Maneuvers

Next, a series of burns conducted by the interim cryogenic propulsion stage meticulously adjusts the spacecraft’s trajectory.

These calculated maneuvers, performed over days, guide Artemis 2 as it skirts the moon’s gravitational embrace, teasing lunar orbit with a wide loop before spiraling back toward Earth.

Here, as Artemis 2 navigates the delicate combination of forces that will ultimately return it home, the spotlight shifts to the spacecraft’s internal systems.

The crew engages in meticulous checks, evaluating everything from life support and habitation systems to exercise equipment.

As the hours pass, the spacecraft sheds components and refines its posture, preparing for the crucial step that will sever its earthly ties.

Now, this is the point of no return where Artemis 2 commits to lunar exploration.

The trans-lunar injection burn, a calculated release from Earth’s gravitational grasp, propels the spacecraft onto a trajectory known as a free return path.

This trajectory ensures that Artemis 2 will eventually loop around the Moon and then slingshot back toward Earth.

The Return

With orbits intricately aligned and propellant judiciously conserved, Artemis 2 finally embarks on its return to Earth.

Hurtling through the atmosphere at a velocity of up to 25,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft withstanding temperatures exceeding 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, its interior remains a haven of comfort, maintaining a climate between 70 and 80 degrees.

As Artemis 2 emerges from re-entry, its descent culminates in a splashdown. Eleven parachutes unfurl, cushioning the spacecraft’s arrival in the Pacific Ocean, completing a million-mile pilgrimage that has lain dormant for over five decades.

Data garnered from Artemis 2’s mission will shape Artemis 3, the mission that promises to bring us back to the lunar surface.

Summary

And so, as Artemis 2 propels humanity toward the Moon, the essence of exploration is in every phase of its journey. The endeavor combines technology and the human spirit in a marvel of engineering.

Like Apollo 11 before it, this mission signifies not only a technical feat but a testament to humanity’s shared aspirations.

As we brace for the dawn of Artemis 2, let us marvel at the journey that awaits, a million-mile pilgrimage across space, bridging generations, and uniting us as we reach for the stars once more.

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