So if someone hasn’t informed you that NASA has plans to return to the lunar surface then congrats for getting out from under that rock you’ve been under. In a new article posted by Space.com (https://www.space.com/nasa-private-moon-landers-funding-artemis.html) NASA has awarded a total of $45.5 million (USD) to private companies to help streamline their Artemis Mission plans. Artemis is the name given to the new lunar missions by NASA which is highly fitting since Artemis in Greek mythology was the sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon as well as the goddess of the hunt. Their plans to go back to the moon are already well underway and they had been working diligently to achieve this goal now for several years, but in recent months/weeks the US government has started to put their money where their mouth is in terms of achieving this goal. In December 2017 President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1 which set the goal of a landing, but in March VP Pence announced the deadline of 2024, which is a significant increase in pace compared to what they had been planning of the late 2020’s (around 2028-2029). With this accelerated time scale the President has requested an additional $1.6 billion in additional funding to achieve this goal.
Now NASA of today is not the NASA of the 1960’s and 1970’s and it shows in how they are doing business. NASA has shown that they are prepared to use private companies to achieve their 2024 time line. NASA has already been working with private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to bring space flight back to the US and get away from relying on the Russian Soyuz rockets to get astronauts from earth to the International Space Station. So far both companies have had set backs with respect to crewed missions but SpaceX is already ferrying supplies and research back and forth from the surface to the ISS on unmanned ships called the Dragon. SpaceX is working to modify their Dragon capsule to house a crew, but there have been issues in test launches.
NASA is planning on using the Artemis program to begin to establish a permanent human presence on the moon by building a space station that orbits the moon called Gateway. The idea for this is to launch astronauts from earth in a capsule that then docks with Gateway the astronauts go from gateway to a landing module that would take them to the surface and allow them to conduct experiments and return to Gateway and from there refuel their capsule, if needed, and return to earth. This would also be the proposed launch point from which NASA will begin sending manned missions to Mars. I love this because these are our first baby steps to becoming an interplanetary species and that is the start of becoming an interstellar species. Which is really our only long term survival option as humans.
Also important to note in this article NASA is absolutely hedging its bets with their contracting of private companies. They have awarded contract to SpaceX and Blue Origin but also to several other companies like Boeing, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others. Each of these companies has contracts to develop and test different aspects of the Gateway system and build prototypes from there NASA will select the one they think is most likely to succeed. It’s also important to remember that SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin have been awarded contracts to build rockets and space craft to bring humans to and from the ISS. These are still under development and nothing has been successfully tested yet.
Okay so one last note for this post. We have probably all seen the videos of the spectacular failures of SpaceX and their rockets as well as their booster re-entry and landing technique. They are truly spectacular failures, which is what one would expect when you build a machine that is designed to control and focus a massive explosion. Lets be completely honest about that. That is how space flight works. You strap yourself into a small box on top of highly combustible fuel then light it on fire and hope you reach escape velocity and don’t die in the process. To make this happen, to do this right, to survive this process the systems MUST be tested and when you test something that has never been done before there will be failures. There have to be failures. If everything worked perfectly the first time out the gate I wouldn’t set foot in it (and I want to go to space so bad I don’t care if I die on the trip). Without failures you’ll never know your limits, you’ll never really learn anything. It’s been said that we learn more from our failures than we do our successes and I can completely agree with that. People might say that well we’ve been to the moon already and we do regularly fly astronauts to the ISS via Russia, why is this failing so much? Well that’s a fair question in my opinion, but the problem with the question assumes we’ve made no technological advances in the 1970’s and that the Soyuz is the perfect rocket with no issues and nothing can be added to it. That just isn’t the case. In the latest test failures by SpaceX the issues with the Dragon Crew module has been that a newly designed safety measure hasn’t worked as planed. The idea is that in the event of a launch emergency the crew module will detach and launch away from the rocket in the effort to save astronaut lives. This is a wonderful idea and I am horrified and shocked no one thought of it before, myself included. So anytime there is a change to a design or a method, especially when it comes to riding a massive explosion and fuel to space, you want to test it over and over and over again to make sure it works right in the worst conditions because you want to save lives. This is also true of the reusable booster rockets that SpaceX designed and built. They failed all the freaking time during development and the landings of those boosters had to be made on land and water so of course this changes things and has to be accounted for. Now? their boosters land perfectly where they are designed to land so they can be reused on the next space flight. This is a huge cost saving endeavor that had never been attempted and SpaceX did it when no one else was trying. So what I am trying to say with all this is that we as space lovers, space enthusiast’s, and really as just humans have to expect and want to see these failures in the testing phase of this process. How else will you learn? Computer simulations only get you so far. If I ever get the chance to go to space I want to be on the safest method possible, all things considered, and to get that there have to be failures to reach success. How do you think we got to airplanes?