NASA should be the leader in humanity's return from the Moon

Half a century has passed since the first astronauts walked on Earth's Moon.

NASA should be the leader in humanity's return from the Moon

Half a century has passed since the first astronauts walked on Earth's Moon. They left footprints in lunar dust and captured iconic images of Earth. NASA will send people back if it has its way: NASA's Artemis programme is set to launch its first rocket test capable of reaching the Moon in this year. It will culminate with a human mission in the unexplored southern pole region in 2025. This will be the first human mission to the Moon since 1972's NASA Apollo program. Artemis, named after Artemis, is a twin sister to the Greek god Apollo. It aims at restoring the wonder of humans exploring other worlds.

Scientists are thrilled. Human exploration of the Moon can answer a wide range of scientific questions, including how much water freezes in shadowy craters close to its poles, and how the Earth-Moon system was formed in an ancient cosmic collision. However, sending astronauts to other worlds is not just about research. Apollo, which placed 12 men on the Moon in a series of years starting in 1969, is one of the greatest achievements of humankind. It is important to look back in order to develop the technologies and skills needed to help people push forward to reach goals like Mars.

NASA has had a difficult time gaining momentum in human space flight since Apollo was ended. It has sent many astronauts to the International Space Station but it hasn't been able to reach beyond Earth orbit to send astronauts deep into space. This is due to changing Congress and presidential administrations. So far, the only country that has sent humans to the Moon is the United States.

NASA will launch the Space Launch System, its long-awaited deep space rocket, this year. It will be the first test flight for the Artemis programme. This program aims to place the first woman and first person of colour on Earth's surface. NASA should be given the resources it requires by Congress.

Artemis has many challenges, including how to create new-generation spacesuits capable of protecting astronauts from the cold temperatures at the lunar south pole. The type of spacecraft that will transport the astronauts to the moon is another unknown. NASA's new-generation rocket will not be compatible with the Apollo landing module from 1960s. SpaceX, a private company based in Hawthorne (California), is responsible for the design and construction of the Artemis lander. However, very few details have been revealed.

These problems can only be solved with large amounts of money. According to NASA's office for the inspector general, each of the four Artemis launches will cost US$4.1billion. This includes three crewed flights. The total cost of Artemis until the mid 2020s is $93 billion. Although a huge sum, this is comparable to the Apollo programme, which included six crewed Moon landings and cost $25.8 billion -- $257 billion in 2020 dollars (C. Dreier Space Policy; 2022).

NASA could argue that it should stop building expensive rockets in order to continue an expensive venture. NASA's Moon-rocket program is several years behind schedule and many billions of dollars more expensive than expected. SpaceX and other private companies are creating deep-space rockets. Why should we reward inefficiency?

NASA is a public-funded agency with the necessary knowledge, stability, and standing to lead deep space exploration. Human space exploration is a global endeavor and Artemis is an international effort. The European Space Agency will provide a key component of Orion's spacecraft that will transport a crew to the Moon. China is currently working with NASA to send astronauts to the Moon's surface. A number of countries and companies are also planning to launch uncrewed missions.

Artemis' funding is not guaranteed. NASA has funded parts of the programme from its $24 billion annual budget. It is asking Congress to provide $7 billion for a second crewed Artemis flight, and prepare for the Moon landing.

Artemis is now possible. The United States faces many challenges, including the pandemic, war in Ukraine, and climate change. These are all issues that require attention and strain the public's purse. Congress must look up to the heavens. The Moon will be a worthy scientific destination for humanity and a beacon of light during dark times. NASA is the best place to lead this effort.