The moon has not seen the arrival of another human being since the end of the Apollo program in 1972. However, a new wave of space exploration has began to gain traction.
Over the next five years, NASA has planned a series of launches to bring astronauts, including the first woman, back to the moon their Artemis program.
In the time between the last steps on the moon and now, there have been greater technological capabilities, different political entanglements, and a better understanding of the human body, all of which are transformative for the Artemis program.
The institute, at the forefront of the advancement of aerospace research and particularly interdisciplinary in its studies, has a unique perspective on this new program.
Leading tech faculty experts from all colleges attended a roundtable discussion at the end of August to discuss the technology, impact and future of NASA’s latest ambitions.
“In everything we celebrate about Apollo and its historic moment, this is bigger. We are about to do something that has never been done before. This is when we leave planet to stay and prepare to become a multi-planet species,” said AE Professor Glenn Lightsey.
In fact, Lightsey and his team have a special part in the program. Along with NASA engineers Terry Stevenson, Ph.D. AE ’18 and Matt Sorgenfrei designed the propulsion system for the BioSentinel satellite that will be onboard Space Start system rocket.
At 322 feet tall and weighing 6 million pounds, the Space Launch System is among NASA’s largest and most powerful rockets, and BioSentinel will include the first long-term biological tests conducted outside of Earth orbit. These tests increase the understanding of living organisms and the external effects space has on them.
The propulsion system technology allows the spacecraft to point its antenna back toward Earth so NASA scientists can conduct tests and broadcast remotely results home.
The Artemis program and its specific missions set the precedent for future space travel, including future voyages to Mars. This advancement in space travel brings both global cooperation and competition.
The United States has developed its own space policy with its allies Europe, Japan and Canada. In particular, the Artemis Accords lay the foundation for cooperative, sustainable and ethical space exploration.
On the other hand, China and Russia have embarked on their own joint lunar and space programs with similar milestones, goals, and technological capabilities as the United States. This begs the question: will the international community commemorate a modern space race? the 60s and 70s?
INTA Associate Professor Mariel Borowitz commented. “On the one hand, it’s not a race because [Artemis] is not a short-term investment, but [instead, NASA is] looking for more sustainable space exploration,” Borowitz said.
He acknowledged that the interpretation was and would depend on the public events unfolding.
Optimistically, the world could collectively celebrate every state that reaches the moon, or more pessimistically, they could keep the argument going by comparing achievements. With no borders and limited resources, Borowitz hopes the world’s lunar missions will encourage collaboration in new ways.
Aside from this political arena, many question the practicality of the Artemis program.
Anna Redanz, fourth-year EAS student, said: “From a scientific point of view, it is very important that we go to other planets to increase our understanding of our own planet, but from a climatic and social point of view, we have many problems of our own planet and the funding should go to initiatives to solve ours own climate problems.”
The entire Artemis lunar program will cost around $93 billion over 13 years, according to NASA’s Office of Inspector General. In comparison, TIME reported that at least $300 billion in investment is needed to mitigate climate change.
Borowitz believes that “space is something that really tests human capabilities: technological prowess and also our ability to work together. [And] Space exploration cannot be done by private companies alone, so it is a worthy endeavor for the government. Space and NASA are something that people around the world identify with and connect with.”
The Artemis program is a unique moment in world history that aims to create a new future for humanity while paralleling past global agendas.
It reflects the world’s current crossroads in limiting global warming, but also celebrates humanity’s growing ability to accomplish once impossible feats.
More information on the professors and faculty roundtable discussion on the launch of Artemis I can be found here at coe.gatech.edu.