NASA'S ambitious Artemis programme aimed at returning astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024 has just been expanded even further, aiming to maintain a human presence on the Moon and, potentially, Mars after 2024.
A 13-page report titled "NASA’s Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development" was submitted on 3 April to the National Space Council, an advisory group to President Donald Trump that is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.
The report mapped out a detailed justification for the project and offered key points towards its implementation.
The report was accompanied by a statement from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, which touted the new “great challenge” of space exploration: development of a sustained presence on and around the Moon.
“For years to come, Artemis will serve as our North Star as we continue to work toward even greater exploration of the Moon, where we will demonstrate key elements needed for the first human mission to Mars", said the report.
Artemis Base Camp
The report focuses on Artemis Base Camp, intended as a long-term foothold for lunar exploration. One suggested location for the future base has been Shackleton Crater on the Moon's south pole.
The Camp – projected to be a surface habitat hosting four astronauts for visits of possibly a week - in the long term would require additional infrastructure, says the report, for power, waste disposal, communications, radiation shielding, and a landing pad.
Artemis Base Camp would be provided with two mobility systems: a lunar terrain vehicle for transporting astronauts and a habitable mobility platform that could ferry the crew away from base for trips lasting up to 45 days.
Gateway to Mars
Also mapped out in the report is a plan to use a moon-orbiting waystation, called the Gateway, to send four-person crews on simulated missions to Mars that might last months.
Explaining the importance of these practice missions that would mimic the duration of a journey to Mars, the report states:
"These missions will be by far the longest duration human deep-space missions in history. They will be the first operational tests of the readiness of our long-duration deep space systems, and of the split crew operations that are vital to our approach for the first human Mars mission".
The report wraps up by emphasising the long-term target for Artemis is to indulge in extensive moon-specific science as well as preparing for the exploration of Mars.
"In time, Artemis Base Camp might also include a hopper that could deliver science and technology payloads all over the Moon… A lunar far-side radio telescope could also be remotely emplaced and operated from Artemis Base Camp — a sort of backyard radio-telescope at our first encampment on the Moon", says the report.
The Artemis Mission
NASA's current Artemis programme incorporates several major components of other cancelled NASA programmes and was named after Artemis, the Greek goddess of the Moon and twin sister to Apollo, whose namesake programme first brought crews to the Moon in 1969.
In March 2019, Vice President Mike Pence called on NASA to hasten its lunar initiatives, spurred by US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly pushed NASA to return to the lunar surface.
In one of the first steps of our #Moon2024 plans, we announced the selection of @Maxar Technologies to develop and launch the first element of our lunar Gateway, which will be the staging point to send @NASA_Astronauts to the Moon’s surface. Find out more: https://t.co/sFVWYbGTN1 pic.twitter.com/Y1MooHP5Q6— NASA (@NASA) May 23, 2019
In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed his administration's first space policy directive.
“Exactly 45 years ago, almost to the minute, Jack [Schmitt] become one of the last Americans to land on the moon. Today, we pledge that he will not be the last", said Trump at the signing ceremony.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine previously said President Trump's desire to put humans back on the Moon provides a chance to test key tech before missions to land on Mars, which NASA hopes to launch by 2033.