To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Per audacia ad astra

The last NASA launch was over a decade ago, in 2011. That mission, known as STS-135, carried four people and the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and a Lightweight Multi-Purpose Carrier, which were then delivered to the International Space Station. NASA has largely unheard of since then, but there’s an innovative new space program that appears to be a sister to the Apollo Program set to launch in just a few months.


In news that has slipped under the radar, NASA is planning to launch the first rocket in the Artemis Program. Artemis I will be an uncrewed mission and is planned to launch in June, although some suspect it will launch a few months behind schedule. The purpose of the first Artemis launch is to test the Orion launch system that will be used for future crewed missions, and the spacecraft is intended to spend nearly a week in a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. Other Artemis launches will be crewed, and one of them will even include a lunar landing.


The Artemis program has a surprisingly long history, starting all the way back in 2012. Originally named “NASA Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1),” the program was delayed while a similar launch was carried out by the European Space Agency. The EM-1 launch was originally intended to happen in 2016, but was delayed until 2018, then 2019, then 2020, then 2021 and after a part failure it was delayed a final time until June 2022. Before the launch later this year, there will be a “wet dress rehearsal” in April, where liquid fuel is loaded into the rocket but is not ignited.


Although Artemis I’s launch is simply a proof of concept, the goal of the Artemis program is to set up a base on the Moon to allow for future deep-space exploration and scientific discovery. The Moon’s gravity is about ⅙ as strong as Earth’s gravity, which makes it ideal for longer range space missions. If liftoff is more fuel-efficient, then future space missions can have a longer range and hopefully discover more about our galaxy.


The concept of a lunar base is extremely exciting, but life on the Moon presents its own extreme difficulties. For starters, one day on the Moon is the equivalent of 29 days on Earth, and the Moon’s surface temperature can be as high as 127 degrees celsius or as low as -173 degrees celsius depending on which side of the Moon you’re on. The moon also has no atmosphere to protect its surface from cosmic radiation and cosmic debris, making all structures and people living on the lunar surface extremely vulnerable. But, despite all of those challenges humanity should still press on, not because it is easy but because it is hard


When I read the news of Artemis I’s upcoming launch, I only had one question: “what took us so long?” The first time humans were on the Moon was in 1969, as part of the Apollo program. It was a singular moment in human history, the first time we left our cradle and learned to walk on an interplanetary level. But, largely for political reasons, we haven’t been back to the moon since 1972. A NASA administrator once said that putting humans on the moon by 2024, which the Artemis program plans to do, would require more federal funding. NASA once constituted four percent of the federal government’s budget, but now it makes up less than one percent. The NASA administrator said that more funding is very unlikely, as a space program is considered a “political risk.” But, the benefits of a lunar base for space exploration are unparalleled. It could serve as a fueling stop, allow for better telescopic observation, and allow us to learn more about the Moon itself. It appears that the main hurdle our space program faces is funding, which is absurd considering how our government chooses to allocate money. NASA gets a considerable amount of funding, $23.3 billion, but it needs more funding to be able to take on ambitious projects like Artemis. 


Funds could be allocated from somewhere like the US military, which somehow got $715 billion this fiscal year. There isn’t a non-fascist reason that the military needs that much money, especially when it could go to improving people’s lives and exploring the cosmos. Let’s say that the defense budget was halved, which still leaves more than enough money for any military to do… whatever things a military needs hundreds of billions of dollars for. That leaves just over $350 billion to go to better public education, better infrastructure, better community services and even to government organizations like NASA. The point is, the government has the money. They’re just choosing to spend it on unnecessary wars instead of exploring our galaxy (and helping citizens).


It’s exciting to see the beginnings of a lunar base program come together, even if it is at a snail’s pace. Humans are an infinitesimally small speck in the vast expanse of the Milky Way, let alone the universe, and it’s high time that we learn about our galactic neighborhood. I believe that a lunar base is the key to human exploration of the cosmos, and the Artemis program is the first step in that process. The Artemis I launch can’t come soon enough.

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