When humanity first step foot on the Moon, they couldn’t stay around for very long. The Apollo program was limited by the technology of the era — given the incredible cost per kilogram to put a payload down on the lunar surface, it wasn’t feasible to bring down enough consumables for a lengthy stay. Even if they could have carried sufficient food and water to last more than a few days, the limiting factor would have become how long the crew could realistically remain cooped up in the tiny Lunar Excursion Module (LEM).
In comparison, the Artemis program is far more ambitious. NASA wants to establish a long-term, and perhaps even permanent, human presence on our nearest celestial neighbor. This will be made possible, at least in part, to the greatly reduced launch costs offered by current and near-future launch vehicles compared to legacy platforms like the Saturn V or Space Shuttle. But cheaper rides to space is only part of the equation. NASA will also be leaning heavily on the lessons learned during the International Space Program; namely, the advantages of modular design and international cooperation.
While NASA and their commercial partners will still end up providing the bulk of the hardware for the Artemis program, many modules and components are being provided by other countries. From the Orion’s European Service Module (ESM) to the Japanese life support systems to be installed on the Lunar Gateway Station, America won’t be going to the Moon alone this time.
The impacts of climate change continue to mount on human civilization, with warning signs that worse times are yet to come. Despite the scientific community raising an early warning as to the risks of continued air pollution and greenhouse gas output, efforts to stem emissions have thus far had minimal impact. Continued inaction has led some scientists to consider alternative solutions to stave off the worst from occurring.
Geoengineering has long been touted as a potential solution for our global warming woes. Now, the idea of launching a gigantic dust cloud from the moon to combat Earth’s rising temperatures is under the spotlight. However, this very sci-fi solution has some serious implications if pursued, if humanity can even achieve the feat in the first place.
In the vast realm of space exploration, new discoveries often emerge from old data. Thanks to advanced algorithms and keen observers, the seismic activities of our closest celestial neighbor, the Moon, have recently been thrust back into the limelight.
Yesterday, the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft performed a powered soft-landing on the Moon, officially making India the fourth country to achieve a controlled descent to the lunar surface. Up to this point, only the United States, China, and the Soviet Union could boast successful landings on our nearest celestial neighbor.
What’s more, Chandrayaan-3 has positioned itself closer to the Moon’s south pole than any other mission in history. This area is of great interest to scientists, as there is evidence that deep craters in the polar region contain considerable deposits of frozen water. At the same time, the polar highlands receive almost constant sunlight, making it the perfect location to install solar arrays. These factors make the Moon’s south pole an ideal candidate for a future human outpost, and Chandrayaan-3 is just one of several robotic craft that will explore this area in the coming years.
But as is usually the case with space exploration, the success of Chandrayaan-3 didn’t come easy, or quickly. The ISRO started the Chandrayaan program in 2003, and launched the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008. The craft successfully entered lunar orbit and surveyed the surface using a wide array of instruments, many of which were provided by foreign space agencies such as NASA and the ESA. In 2019 the far more ambitious Chandrayaan-2 mission was launched, which included a lander and small rover. While the orbiter component of Chandrayaan-2 was a complete success, the lander crashed into the Moon’s surface and was destroyed.
With Chandrayaan-3 now safely on the surface of the Moon, there’s much work to be done in the coming days. The planned mission lifetime for both the lander and rover is a single lunar day, which equals just about two weeks here on Earth. After that, the vehicles will be plunged into a long stretch of frigid darkness which they likely won’t survive.
The last time that a human set foot on the Moon, it was December 1972 — when the crew of the Apollo 17 mission spent a few days on the surface before returning to Earth. Since then only unmanned probes have either touched down on the lunar surface or entered orbit to take snapshots and perform measurements.
But after years of false starts, there are finally new plans on the table which would see humans return to the Moon. Not just to visit, but with the goal of establishing a permanent presence on the lunar surface. What exactly has changed that the world went from space fever in the 1960s to tepid interest in anything beyond LEO for the past fifty years, to the renewed interest today?
Part of the reason at least appears to be an increasing interest in mineable resources on the Moon, along with the potential of manufacturing in a low gravity environment, and as a jumping-off point for missions to planets beyond Earth, such as Mars and Venus. Even with 1960s technology, the Moon is after all only a few days away from launch to landing, and we know that the lunar surface is rich in silicon dioxide, aluminium oxide as well as other metals and significant amounts of helium-3, enabling in-situ resource utilization.
Current and upcoming Moon missions focus on exploring the lunar south pole in particular, with frozen water presumed to exist in deep craters at both poles. All of which raises the question of we may truly see lunar-based colonies and factories pop up on the Moon this time, or are we merely seeing a repeat of last century?
The Moon has fascinated humanity for centuries. These days, though, it’s a trial and a bore to go outside and stare upwards to check on the natural satellite. Instead, why not bring the Moon to your bedside with this rotating phase lamp?
The build comes to us from [payasa_manandhar], who did a good job of replicating the Moon in both form and function. It’s based around a lithophane of the lunar surface, which adequately duplicates the Moon’s grey pockmarked visage thanks to topographical data sourced from NASA. It looks a treat when backlit from the inside. However, this is no mere ornamental lamp. With the aid of a stepper motor controlled by an Arduino, a shade inside the lamp actually rotates to shadow the Moon as per the appropriate phase.
Given the number of spacecraft (both crewed and uncrewed) that touched down on the Moon during the Space Race it’s sometimes hard to imagine why today, with all our modern technology, our remotely operated vehicles seem to have so much trouble not smashing themselves to bits on the regolith surface.
So far only three entities have successfully landed a craft on the Moon’s surface: the government-funded space agencies of the US, USSR, and China. Of them, only China managed to do so on their first try in 2013 (Chang’e-3), and again in 2019 on the far side of the Moon (Chang’e-4). What is the toughest part about a Moon landing is not to get near the Moon, but it’s about getting close to the surface without getting lost. Since there are no navigation satellites beyond those you put up before the landing, and a lot of Moon dust that will be kicked up by any landing rocket engines, it can be tough to gauge one’s exact location and distance to the surface.
In the case of the ispace lander it would appear that it tragically ran out of propellant before it could safely touch down, which is another major concern. Both the US and USSR would smash Moon landers into its surface until the first successful landing in 1966, which makes the manned touchdown by Apollo 11 in 1969 even more impressive.