Posted July 18, 2023
By Ray Blanco
Space Race 2.0
That’s a name that, if you’ve heard it at all, likely doesn’t have the same impact to you as Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin.
While Armstrong and Aldrin are universally known for becoming the first men to set foot on the moon when Apollo 11’s lunar lander touched down on July 20th, 1969, the lesser known Eugene Cernon is the last man to have walked on the moon.
Cernon crewed the Apollo 17, which completed its trip to the moon on December 11th, 1972 and was the last attempted crewed mission of its kind.
51 years later and we’re finally going back.
The four astronauts that will crew the Artemis II mission are currently in training for a space flight to the far-side of the moon, expected to take place in 2024 or 2025.
Commander Reid Wiseman will be joined by crewmates Victor Glover, Christina Koch, and Jeremy Hansen. This crew will perform a flyby before returning to Earth.
The 10-day mission will include a four day outbound trip and should set the record for the furthest that humans have traveled earth.
The Artemis III will take place likely in 2026 and will return humans to the surface of the moon for the first time in over half a century.
Among the many goals of the Artemis program is to test the technology that NASA hopes will eventually send a crewed mission to Mars. The program intends to set up a base that could extend trips to the lunar surface to a month or more, while the Apollo 17 crew had spent a record three days on the moon.
Additionally, the advances in technology over the last 50+ years should allow for much improved sample gathering and analysis compared to the Apollo-era missions. This would include the collection of lunar water samples.
Artemis III would in theory be the first of yearly trips to our moon.
Two Man Race
It wouldn’t be a Space Race if there wasn’t another contender.
While the original competition to be the first nation to put its astronauts on the moon pitted us against the Soviets, the 21st century version squares us up against a familiar foe: China.
In 2019, China’s Chang'e 4 achieved the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, and in 2020 the Chang’e 5 retrieved lunar samples, making China only the third country to do so.
The country has even bigger goals. Like the United States, they also have renewed interest in putting its people on the surface of the moon.
China’s largest obstacle in sending a manned lunar mission has been developing a rocket powerful enough to send both a full crew as well as a lander probe.
They are planning on solving this issue by simply sending the lander on its own rocket ahead of the ship carrying the crew. The crewed ship would eventually dock on the lander while in orbit before descending to the surface.
Like their American counterparts, the Chinese astronauts plan to collect lunar samples before their return trip to Earth. They clearly are also eying the mission as a stepping stone towards the eventual destination of Mars.
There’s little chance that China manages to pull ahead of NASA’s pace, as their dual-rockets are not planned to launch until 2030. Four years after the likely completion of Artemis III.
With that, we’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you think it’s worth the money and effort to go back to the moon? How about making it all the way to Mars? Would you be concerned about another country pulling ahead in this new Space Race? Let us know about this, or anything at email@example.com.