Artemis is Our Future

Last week, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing. We weren’t just looking backward though.

As part of our current Artemis lunar exploration program, we published a draft solicitation asking U.S. industry to think about how they would build an integrated human landing system that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon in the next five years.

If you’re wondering why NASA doesn’t simply dust off the Apollo lander designs to put humans on the Moon by 2024, you’re not alone. Yes, we had a highly successful Moon program in the past in which we won the space race, but we have new goals for Artemis, which is a stepping stone for Mars.

When we go forward to the Moon, we want the ability to land anywhere on the lunar surface anytime we want. To do so, we need a modern landing system that we can reuse, refuel and refurbish in space.  That system will be staged at the Gateway in lunar orbit – our command module to support robotic and human exploration on the lunar surface, and missions farther into the solar system.

Illustration of a human landing system on the lunar surface.
Illustration of a human landing system on the lunar surface. Credit: NASA

We will accelerate our return to the Moon by 2024 and establish a foundation for a sustainable human presence by 2028. NASA is leading that charge with meaningful contributions from our commercial and international partners. We are building spacecraft to internationally agreed standards so that when our partners begin sending their own lunar systems, we’ll be ready for them. Apollo didn’t allow for that, but with Artemis, it is a core principle. Together, we will use the Moon to validate human safety protocols, technologies, and operational procedures before embarking on the ultimate human destination: Mars.

Exploring More of the Moon

Apollo’s primary goal was to win the space race: to be the first on the Moon; to plant flags and footprints. All six landings occurred at the equatorial region because the command modules were designed to operate in that specific orbit, for one mission. Those six landing sites span about 6% of the Moon’s surface.

This time, when we go to the Moon, the Gateway will make it possible to access any region of the lunar surface, from pole to pole, from near side to far side. We will learn to use the Moon’s resources to reduce the amount of supplies we need to send from Earth, and build systems to common standards, so that contributors across the globe may seamlessly join our endeavor.

Higher safety standards

Astronaut safety has always been a top priority for NASA, but we took many unknown risks with early lunar exploration. We know much more about the Moon now than we did in the 1960s, so we can address these risks technically and operationally.

For instance, during Apollo, our greatest concern with soil was that the lander would sink into the soil, or that crew would step onto the surface and sink down to their shoulders like falling in a snowdrift. We now understand our greater risk from dust is actually how inhaling the small sharp, glass-like dust particles can lodge in the lungs creating acute and long-term risks to astronaut health. Through work with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – which opened at the very end of Apollo in 1971 – we now have standards for particulate size, and how long we can breathe specific compositions.

In some cases, NASA established its own safety standards, but many of those standards, such as atmospheric concentrations of carbo dioxide, are now debated with other experts. Apollo systems were designed to maintain breathing air with up to 1% carbon dioxide, but today’s human health experts recommend 0.25%.

Lighter, smarter technologies

As a Navy pilot, I would cherish the opportunity fly a vintage plane, but I certainly would not choose it over today’s newer aircraft for a flight around the world. That said, in 2005, a team of NASA engineers met with some of the Grumman veterans who built the Apollo landers just to see what they would do with current technologies. The engineers conducted a study and re-designed the Apollo landers. Based on technologies that are now 15 years old, they brought the overall spacecraft mass down by about a ton, mostly because of lighter avionics and batteries.

Today, we have even lighter, and certainly smarter, technologies, so imagine what we will do with a 21st century refresh.

Investing in NASA

We now have a robust industrial base of spacecraft suppliers. New partnerships and other affordability options are considered at every level of Artemis technical and programmatic planning. In the 1960s, NASA essentially had to start from scratch, developing the Saturn rocket, and sending astronauts into space incrementally through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs – at a cost of 5% of the nation’s discretionary budget. At the moment, we’re waiting for Congress to approve the President’s budget amendment, which includes the additional funds we need as a down payment on this bold goal. And like Apollo, we expect the national investment in NASA to pay dividends on our economy and technologies for generations to come.

For future exploration, we will entrust only the most modern systems to keep our astronauts safe. We will incorporate state-of-the-art technologies – some born of Apollo and matured over the past 50 years.

We are grateful for the Apollo generation that came before us – for the bold vision, for the unforeseen technological boom that led to miniaturized technologies, and for the inspiration that gave birth to a new era of dreamers, tinkerers, scientists, artists, and engineers.

We’re ready to explore the Moon again – this time with advanced technologies, modern spacecraft, and more access than ever before. We will use what we learn at the Moon, and ultimately take our next giant leap, sending astronauts to Mars.

We are the Artemis generation, and we’re going to the Moon and beyond. Are you ready?

Apollo 11 and NASA’s Plans Today for the Moon and Mars

As we look back on one of the signature accomplishments of humanity, NASA’s Apollo 11 Moon landing 50 years ago this Saturday, July 20, our view in hindsight has not dimmed this historic milestone or what it means for our future.

As President Nixon spoke to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon, he said, “Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world … For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”

Neil Armstrong’s one small step continues to propel humanity to ever greater heights. As the international leader in space for 60 years, NASA has achieved inspiring feats of exploration, discovery, science, and technology. We have changed the way the world flies, communicates, navigates, predicts weather, produces food and energy, and so much more.

Today, we’re implementing President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-1 to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system.”

We have been charged by Vice President Pence on behalf of the President, to send the first woman and the next man to the lunar South Pole by 2024, and to “use all means necessary.” Under our Artemis program, we will go with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than was ever thought possible. This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay. And then we will use what we learn on the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars. This is America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.

This work is unfolding right now with the contributions of every single NASA center, and every single discipline represented in our talented workforce.

We are going to the Moon with commercial and international partners to explore faster and explore more together. We will bring new knowledge and opportunities and inspire the next generation. The Moon will provide a proving ground to test our technologies and resources that will take us to Mars and beyond, including building a sustainable, reusable architecture. And, in going to the Moon, we are laying the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.

Our backbone for Artemis is the biggest rocket ever built, the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft and the Gateway lunar command module.

We’re staying on schedule for flying the Artemis-1 mission with our Orion spacecraft on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket next year, and for sending the first crewed mission, Artemis-2, to the lunar vicinity by 2022.

Our charge for a national exploration campaign will use the experience of the NASA workforce, coupled with the innovation of our commercial and international partners, to create an architecture that is open, sustainable and agile to move forward to the Moon once again and then on to Mars. This unified effort will create and inspire the “Artemis generation,” and change the course of history as we realize the next great scientific, economic and technical achievements in space.

Our work is one endeavor with three unique destinations: low-Earth orbit, the Moon, and Mars. And we are building on the legacy of the pioneers at NASA – the brave women and men across the planet who helped us land 12 human beings on the lunar surface and bring them home safely. We are building on the success of commercial space around our planet and the vibrant opportunities is generates, even as we launch humanity once again to the lunar surface to do more science, explore more places, foster innovation, and inspire and engage partners around the world in the next chapter of our history.

As Apollo 11 made preparations for return, Buzz Aldrin said, “This has been far more than three men on a voyage to the Moon. More, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team. More, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown.”

Neil Armstrong in the crew’s final television transmission from space, said, “The responsibility for this flight lies first with history and with the giants of science who have preceded this effort. Next with the American people, who have through their will, indicated their desire. Next, to four administrations, and their Congresses, for implementing that will. And then, to the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft, the Saturn, the Columbia, the Eagle, and the little EMU; the spacesuit and backpack that was our small spacecraft out on the lunar surface.” He thanked all the Americans who put “their hearts and all their abilities into those craft.”

Going forward, we again require the deep and broad support of every American, lawmakers, our innovative and growing aerospace base, and the many passionate professionals who will stake their careers and the future of our species on what we do next in space.

Apollo 11 lifted us all up, as space continues to do on countless fronts that improve our daily lives, even as we look with awe beyond the bounds of our planet.

Starting with the Artemis program and continuing on to Mars, we’re going to do more of the civilization changing human space exploration begun with Apollo 11, and we look forward to the good will and ideas, and the “hearts and abilities,” of people everywhere to chart this brave course.