NASA’s next moonshot: What you should know about the Artemis lunar program

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is set to kick off a series of lunar missions to return humans to the moon for the first time in over 50 years.

According to The Associated Press, the six-week flight will take the capsule around the moon in a large orbit and return to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific.

Without a crew, the spacecraft has been outfitted with three mannequins to measure vibration and radiation during the journey.

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The mission, Artemis 1, is the first of several missions that are expected over the decade.

Why is it called Artemis?

Following an updated budget request to Congress in 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that the mission that would send astronauts back to the moon would be named Artemis. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of the god Apollo. The mission name is a nod to the last NASA program that sent astronauts to the moon from 1968 to 1972, according to The New York Times.

What are the missions and how many are there?

NASA has plans for at least four Artemis missions and is expected to launch several support missions along the way.

  • Artemis 1 - This mission will be an uncrewed mission to test NASA’s mega-rocket, SLS and the Orion capsule. The primary goal is to demonstrate Orion’s systems in space and ensure a safe recovery before the first human-crewed flight on Artemis 2.
  • Artemis 2 - According to NASA, Artemis 2 will take four astronauts in an elliptical orbit around the moon, taking them further into space than any human.
  • Artemis 3 - This mission, which is vastly more complex than the prior two, will put humans back on the moon for the first time since 1972. NASA says the mission will include the first woman and the first person of color to walk on the moon. SpaceX’s lunar Starship variant, the Human Landing System (HLS), is a crucial piece of the mission. The crew from Orion will board the HLS while orbiting the moon and use it to land on the surface. Following the moonwalk, the crew will take off aboard the HLS and return to the Orion spacecraft for the voyage home.
  • Artemis 4 and beyond - NASA plans to launch several lunar support missions, including a small space station that will orbit the moon, constructing habitats on the service and adding equipment to extract resources from the surface.

The United States Apollo program was the only mission that sent astronauts to the moon. During the program, 24 astronauts flew to the moon, 12 of which walked on the surface.

No human has returned to the moon since Apollo 17′s lunar module lifted off the surface on Dec. 14, 1972.