"Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. "President Trump and Vice President Pence have given us a bold direction to return to the Moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars. Their direction is not empty rhetoric. They have backed up their vision with the budget requests needed to accomplish this objective. NASA is calling this the Artemis program in honor of Apollo's twin sister in Greek mythology, the goddess of the Moon. And we are well on our way to getting this done."
The timeline is set, and aggressively: Land humans on the moon again by 2024, just five years from Vice President Mike Pence's announcement earlier this year. Those humans have a general destination as well: the moon's south pole, a region no human has explored before. And the grand goal is well-touted: Draw on commercial and international partnerships to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon, one that lasts for more than a handful of years as Apollo did.
The Apollo program wasn’t all about getting us to the Moon. Innovation and technology developed for those lunar voyages often have had second lives here on planet Earth. Here are eight examples.
Mars exploration will get a big boost next summer. Earth and the Red Planet align favorably for interplanetary travel just once every 26 months, for a few weeks at a time. The next such window opens in mid-July 2020, and four big-ticket missions aim to take full advantage.
NASA hopes to launch the first unpiloted test flight of an SLS rocket and an Orion capsule in 2021, years later than originally planned. While Pence said the Trump administration remains committed to the huge rocket’s development, he warned the government will turn to other providers if NASA’s “traditional” contractors cannot deliver.
The connection of the Orion spacecraft’s two main elements is a major milestone as engineers ready the vehicle for an unpiloted test flight to lunar orbit and back to Earth, a precursor to a follow-on mission that will carry astronauts back to the vicinity of the moon for the first time since 1972.
An epic lunar laser experiment is still going strong, five decades after the Apollo astronauts set it up on the surface. The moonwalking crew of Apollo 11, which landed on the moon 50 years ago this month, put special retroreflectors on the lunar surface, as did the later crews of Apollo 14 and 15, in 1971.
A half-century after landing the first humans on the Moon, NASA is looking to put people back on the lunar surface, but this time the agency has an even more ambitious deadline to meet. The goal is to send humans back to the Moon by 2024, a mere five years from now. NASA has a whole lot more hardware to develop this time -- which leaves many wondering if such an extremely ambitious lunar return can be done.
A half century ago, America's dreams were realized in space. The power of U.S. innovation and spirit brought the Apollo 11 crew to the moon and back. That mission was possible due to a diverse team of engineers, astronauts and mathematicians. It was also possible thanks to the help of one 10-year-old boy who was in the right place at the right time.
Fifty years ago, NASA's Apollo 11 mission carried the first geologic samples from the moon back to Earth -- and agency has finally released footage of researchers examining those lunar samples for signs of life.