Is NASA’s Artemis II Moon mission our entry into a 21st century space race?

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson just announced a new space race, of sorts.

During a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center for NASA’s Artemis II mission yesterday, Nelson said he was concerned about what would happen if China arrived at the South Pole of the Moon before the United States and refused other countries access to major landing sites and water ice. it’s known to be in the area.

“The space race is really between us and China,” Nelson said. “And we have to protect the interests of the international community for exactly the reasons I have outlined.”

During the press conference, NASA also provided a crucial update on the status of the Artemis missions. And the Artemis II crew, consisting of Commander Reid Wiseman, Pilot Victor Glover, Mission Specialist Christina Koch and Mission Specialist Jeremy Hansen, have finally seen the spacecraft in which they will fly to the moon for the first time. times. Here’s everything you need to know.

The crew of Artemis II (LR) American astronauts Victor Glover, pilot; Reid Wiseman, Commanding Officer; Christina Hammock Koch, mission specialist; and Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen, mission specialist, pose with the Artemis II crew module (rear) inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, August 8, 2023 (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)


Artemis II launch preparation schedule

After months of studying spacecraft systems and meeting with Lockheed engineers and Navy recovery teams, the four astronauts were finally able to take a look inside the crew capsule. Orion they will call home for at least eight days as they are over 6,400 miles away at the end of next year.

“Seeing the capsule, for all of us, sent shivers down our spines,” Hansen said. “I already knew going to the moon was hard,” he said, “but boy, it’s harder than I thought.”

Here is where the mission is:

  • NASA is currently assembling the Orion crew module, which the Artemis II astronauts got their first glimpse of in person this week. Once assembled, Orion will need to be tested and attached to the mission’s service module, which the European Space Agency delivered in June. Ground systems teams will perform additional tests on the paired modules before they are ready to be loaded and launched.
  • Segments of the solid rocket boosters that will help carry Artemis II to orbit are expected to be shipped from a Utah facility at Kennedy Space Center in the coming months. And in November of this year, the core stage of the Space Launch System is expected to arrive from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana, where it is currently undergoing repairs to a fuel tube (aptly called “downcomer because it moves the liquid propellant – you guessed it – downwards).
  • In mid-November this year, fans of NASA’s giant crawler transporter can expect to see the mobile launch tower roll out onto the launch pad. After the Space Launch System caused some minor damage to the launch tower during the launch of Artemis I, NASA repaired some parts and upgraded others.
  • The heat shield problem is about to be solved. More material from Orion’s heat shield was charred and ablated during Artemis I’s reentry than computer models and NASA ground tests predicted. This additional ablation still left a margin of safety, and Orion washed ashore in the Pacific Ocean unscathed, but NASA has yet to figure out why the heat shield worked the way it did and whether it is a potential problem for a crewed flight. The heat shield underwent several rounds of testing at NASA’s Ames and Langley Research Centers, and NASA Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Jim Free said engineers were on point. to identify the root cause of the (spatial) oddity. By the first months of 2024, the capsule and its heat shield should be ready to fly.
  • In February 2024, Kennedy Space Center crews will begin assembling the Space Launch System, Solid Rocket Boosters, Orion Capsule, Service Module, and various other systems and payloads in the large hangar of the Kennedy Space Center Assembly Building. vehicles. This process, called stacking, will take a few months.
  • NASA officials say the Artemis II mission is set to launch at the end of November 2024. If all goes well, they will return eight days later after making a wide circle around the Moon.
  • NASA still hopes to launch Artemis III – the mission that will land astronauts near the Moon’s south pole – in December 2025, despite concerns over whether SpaceX will have its Starship launch vehicle ready in time for the mission. Unlike the first two Artemis missions, NASA plans to launch Artemis III with Starship, but so far SpaceX hasn’t been able to get its heavy launch rocket off the ground (at least, not in one piece). Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Free expressed a mixture of concern and optimism.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – OCTOBER 6: Chang’e detector model is displayed at Guangdong Science Center during World Space Week on October 6, 2022 in Guangzhou, China’s Guangdong Province. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A new space race

NASA works with several other international space agencies, including the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. But Artemis isn’t the only game in town (and by town, we mean the Moon).

The Indian lunar lander Chandrayaan-3 is expected to touch down near the lunar south pole on August 23. The Russian Luna-25 mission is also expected to launch a few days later, although it is expected to arrive before Chandrayaan-3. Finally, China’s Chang’e 6 lander, which plans to return samples from a site near the South Pole, is expected to launch in 2024.

The Chinese mission is the one that worries Nelson.

“We are in a space race with China,” he said in response to a question from reporters.

Nelson expressed concern that China would potentially block other countries from accessing landing sites and the water ice that makes the South Pole prime lunar real estate.

“You see the actions of the Chinese government on Earth,” Nelson said, citing China’s claims to the Spratly Islands, a chain of islands in the South China Sea also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. “So naturally I don’t want China going to the South Pole first, with the humans, and then saying ‘it’s up to us, stay out,’ like they did with the Spratly Islands.” (Quick fact check: the Spratly Islands runways are actually Taiwanese, though they were built in part at the behest of Chinese lawyers; the Spratly dispute is one of the few things China and Taiwan are arguing about. All right.)

Russia, on the other hand, is not a real competitor in the new space race, according to Nelson. He referenced decades of US-Russian cooperation in space, most recently on the International Space Station (although it’s worth mentioning that the relationship has been strained since Russia invaded Ukraine). ) and added, “I don’t think many people at this point would indicate that Russia is actually ready to land cosmonauts on the Moon within the time frame that we’re talking about going to the Moon, or that China might be.”

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