Crisis-ridden "Artemis" mission: NASA plans the future of manned space travel

Back to the moon, including the first woman, and then to Mars: NASA has big plans for human spaceflight.

Crisis-ridden "Artemis" mission: NASA plans the future of manned space travel

Back to the moon, including the first woman, and then to Mars: NASA has big plans for human spaceflight. So far, however, the "Artemis" mission has mainly been plagued by crises. Now an unmanned ground test should finally work.

It has been almost exactly 50 years since the last time a US astronaut walked on the moon. "We are going as we came and, God willing, we will come back the same way - with peace and hope for all mankind," said NASA astronaut Eugene Cernan, who died in 2017, before he took off in December 1972 with the " Apollo 17" mission left Earth's satellite again. Between 1969 and 1972, the United States was the only country to bring a total of twelve astronauts to the moon with the "Apollo" missions.

With the "Artemis" program, named after the goddess of the moon and twin sister of the god Apollo from Greek mythology, the US space agency now wants to make the prediction of the last moon visitor Cernan come true, around half a century later. US astronauts, including for the first time a woman and a non-white person, are supposed to go back to the moon. A rover is also to be included, and outposts are also to be built on the moon and in its orbit. "These elements will allow our robots and astronauts to move more and explore more than ever before," NASA said. Later, even Mars will be targeted as a target for astronauts.

So far, however, the start of "Artemis" has not gone according to plan. The development and construction of the "Space Launch System" rocket and the "Orion" capsule took longer and were more expensive than anticipated. A first unmanned ground test of the system had to be aborted several times in March at the Cape Canaveral spaceport in the state of Florida due to various technical problems. NASA has now rolled out the rocket system again on Cape Canaveral for a second so-called "wet dress rehearsal", in which all processes are to be tested except for the actual launch. According to NASA, the test is scheduled for June 18th. A real start should be tested for the first time in August at the earliest.

Previous plans for a US return to the moon were also plagued by crises and ultimately failed again and again - due to cost explosions, different priorities and other problems. For example, the "Constellation" program supported by former US President George W. Bush, which envisaged manned moon landings, was canceled by his successor Barack Obama because the costs were too high.

Obama had put the focus on Mars - his successor Donald Trump then switched back to the moon, with Mars more as a long-term goal. The "Artemis" mission came into play under his presidency - also, observers say, because Trump wanted US astronauts on the moon during his presidency, so that he could celebrate it as his success. The first manned moon landing as part of the "Artemis" program was originally supposed to take place by 2024, but Trump was then voted out in 2020.

In rare agreement, successor Joe Biden kept the program, but it quickly became clear that the original schedule could not be kept. "The Trump administration's goal of landing humans in 2024 was not based on technical feasibility," Biden-appointed NASA chief Bill Nelson said last year -- postponing the first manned landing to 2025 at the earliest.

Until then, however, much remains to be clarified and tested. Among others, the space companies SpaceX from Elon Musk and Blue Origin from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are currently vying for the contract to build a moon landing device. Four astronauts are to be brought into lunar orbit with "Orion", where two of them are then to change to this landing vehicle for the final approach to the moon. The astronauts who will be there have not yet been finally selected.

Despite all the setbacks and crises in the project, NASA is confident of victory and prophesies on the "Artemis" website: "Our success will change the world." However, the USA is not alone with its moon plans. China is also working on putting its own astronauts on the moon. The People's Republic has landed on the surface of the moon several times with research robots and has also successfully returned moon rocks to earth. In the 2030s, according to reports from the Chinese state media, a permanent station is to be built on the moon in a further step. The research station could therefore be set up and operated jointly with Russia.

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