By Commodore Rich Lombardia
Although the United States landed humans on the moon in 1969, no human has set foot on there since Apollo 17 in 1972. Why haven’t we been back? How do we go back and stay? How do we keep a crew alive on a barren satellite 238,900 miles from Earth?
The International Space Station (ISS), in orbit since November 20, 1998, was a massive undertaking. It took 12 years to build, uniting 15 countries and 5 space agencies. Over its impressive 21 years it has conducted countless hours of research, including the very well publicized ‘Year in Space’. It has been continuously inhabited for nearly 20 years by up to 6 astronauts from any of the partnering countries. But the ISS is due to be decommissioned by 2028.
Still, the American President has called for a return to the moon by 2024, with the expectation of establishing a permanent base of operations.
Humanity has been building the technology it needs to do just that. We have also enriched our understanding of space travel’s effects on the mind and body of the astronauts. Now NASA has a plan in place to make a permanent colony on the moon a reality. In order to do that, we need better support for the people who will travel to, and live on, the moon: In the past, a rocket trip to the moon took roughly four days. That is a long time to wait for help in a hostile environment!
In Greek Mythology, Artemis was the Greek goddess of hunting, wild nature, and chastity. The daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo, Artemis was regarded as a patron of girls and young women and a protectress during childbirth. It’s fitting that NASA uses this name for its next generation of rockets that will bring the first woman and next man to the moon.
To support Artemis, Northrop Grumman was awarded $187 million to design the habitat module for the Lunar Gateway station. This station is not planned to be as large as the ISS, but it’s intended to serve as a solar-powered communication hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots.
Once a permanent settlement is established on the moon, the next question is: what will astronauts do there? In addition to all kinds of low gravity research, it appears they will be mining. Indeed it was recently announced that NASA has detected abundant water on the lunar surface, trapped in icy pockets throughout the lunar soil. This is exciting as it is the first evidence of water outside the lunar polar regions. This expands the sites where potential moon bases can be set up.
The more resources you can find and use, the fewer you have to send from Earth. “Water is a precious resource in space,” Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director, said during the agency’s press conference. “We want to know everything we can about water on the Moon.”
NASA stated three key reasons this water discovery is so important. 1. Astronauts can drink the water. Of course, the water needs to be treated first. 2. Water can be converted to oxygen for astronauts. 3. Water can be used to create fuel.
If we look at SpaceX’s Starship, it’s designed to use liquid oxygen and methane, chemicals that astronauts can generate from carbon dioxide and water. This makes the moon a nice place to stop for gas and to stretch your legs in some sort of gravity before embarking on a six-month trip to Mars.
NASA is not alone in it’s desire to reach beyond the heavens. The Chinese and European Space agencies have also expressed their interest in establishing a moon base. This is such a thrilling time to be a space enthusiast! I am excited to see what humanity accomplishes in my lifetime and what opportunities it will extend to my children.