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    Why go back to the Moon?

    Lucie Aubourg

    AFP – On September 12, 1962, then United States (US) president John F Kennedy informed the public of his plan to put a man on the Moon by the end of the decade.

    It was the height of the Cold War and America needed a big victory to demonstrate its space superiority after the Soviet Union had launched the first satellite and put the first man in orbit. “We choose to go to the Moon,” Kennedy told 40,000 people at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, the US, “because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”.

    Sixty years on, the US launched the first mission of its return programme to the Moon, Artemis, on November 16. Why repeat what has already been done?

    Criticism has risen in recent years, for example from Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, and the Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, who have long advocated for America to go directly to Mars. But National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) argues re-conquering the Moon is a must before a trip to the Red Planet. Here’s why.

    LONG SPACE MISSIONS

    Nasa wants to develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with missions lasting several weeks – compared to just a few days for Apollo.

    The goal: To better understand how to prepare for a multi-year round trip to Mars.

    File photo shows a full moon rising behind the Camlica Mosque in Istanbul, Turkiye. PHOTO: AP

    In deep space, radiation is much more intense and poses a real threat to health.

    Low Earth Orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) operates, is partly shielded from radiation by the Earth’s magnetic field, which isn’t the case on the Moon.

    From the first Artemis mission, many experiments are planned to study the impact of this radiation on living organisms, and to assess the effectiveness of an anti-radiation vest.

    What’s more, while the ISS can often be resupplied, trips to the Moon – a thousand times further – are much more complex.

    To avoid having to take everything with them, and to save costs, Nasa wants to learn how to use the resources present on the surface.

    In particular, water in the form of ice, which has been confirmed to exist on the lunar South Pole, could be transformed into rocket fuel by cracking it into its separate hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

    TESTING NEW GEAR

    Nasa also wants to test on the Moon the technologies that will continue to evolve for a mission to Mars. First, new spacesuits for spacewalks. Their design was entrusted to the company Axiom Space for the first crewed mission to the Moon, in 2025 at the earliest.

    Other needs: vehicles – both pressurised and unpressurised – so that the astronauts can move around, as well as a fixed habitat at the lunar base camp.

    Finally, for sustainable access to an energy source, Nasa is working on the development of portable nuclear fission systems.

    Solving any problems that arise will be much easier on the Moon, only a few days away, than on Mars, which can only be reached after at least several months of voyage.

    ESTABLISHING A WAYPOINT

    A major pillar of the Artemis programme is the construction of a space station in orbit around the Moon, called Gateway, which will serve as a relay before the trip to Mars.

    All the necessary equipment can be sent there in “multiple launches”, before finally being joined by the crew to set off on the long voyage, Sean Fuller, responsible for the Gateway programme, said.

    “Kind of like you’re stopping at your gas station to make sure you get all the stuff, and then you’re off on your way.”

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