Home News Science&Tech NASA wants to return to the moon in 2024: what will it look like?

NASA wants to return to the moon in 2024: what will it look like?

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On Earth and at the ISS space station, NASA is celebrating the anniversary of the first manned moon landing, exactly half a century ago this weekend. In the meantime, the space agency is working hard on the return of American astronauts to the moon. Will that work out in the short term? And is it the first stage on the way to Mars?

According to director Rob van den Berg of Space Expo, the visitor center of ESA in Noordwijk, big steps will be taken again in the coming years. He tells us enthusiastically about the things that come our way. “We are going to the moon again. The Americans want people there again in 2024.”

Why haven’t we been back before? That answer is simple: after the end of the Apollo lunar project in 1972, the money went to the space shuttle and space stations in orbit.

NASA needs billions in the coming years for the project. Congress still has to decide on that. A new spacecraft has already been built for missions to the moon and beyond: the Orion capsule. NASA also wants to build a small space station in orbit around the moon, the Gateway, together with international partners. The brand new lunar program also has a name: Artemis project, after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo.

In the longer term, a permanent base could be created on the lunar surface. “A large 3D printer is now being considered”, says Space Expo director Van den Berg. “It has to collect moon dust, stick it together and then print a kind of igloo layer by layer with an automatic printer. With an inflatable inner tent you can then create safe accommodation for people.”

According to Van den Berg, there are various reasons why the moon is in the spotlight again after fifty years. In the first place, that has to do with the geopolitical relationships. With China increasingly manifesting itself in space travel, America is feeling competition.

“It looks a bit like the situation in the 60s, when America and Russia were embroiled in a race to the moon. They chased each other. Now China has come up with lunar ambitions and that doesn’t let the US go its way. That’s why Vice-President Pence announced last March that in 2024, four years earlier than planned, Americans should be on the moon again. “

But do the moon journeys also deliver something? You can also practice science without people on the moon. Planet researcher Daphne Stam from TU Delft knows all about that. With a team, she is working on an instrument that must look at the earth from the moon. “That way we can learn what to look for when we start researching earth-like planets at other stars with new space telescopes.”

That telescope on the moon can be controlled from the earth. But if you want to examine the moon yourself, it also has advantages to send people, Stam says. “You can also do it with robot carts, but then you still depend on how far such a cart can go. And there must be no steep slopes.”

In other experiments, people cannot mean that much. “For long-term measurements. Seismometers that have to measure lunar quakes, for example. Perhaps it would be useful if someone could set up that instrument as the Apollo astronauts did, but you don’t need people even for that.”

In addition to measurements of quakes deep beneath the surface, Apollo also yielded scientifically more. “The age of the moon, for example, is determined by stones that the moon travelers brought.” And it turns out to be over 4.5 billion years old.

But manned moon landings are not just about science. The Apollo project inspired entire generations and changed our view of the earth as a small, fragile planet. Because of all the environmental and climate issues, that sentiment also plays a role now, says Stam. “That is much stronger than in 1969. At that time it was primarily a great adventure. We wanted to go there and then we were there.”

Major risks were taken to enable the lunar journeys with the technology of the 60s. The on-board computer in particular was incredibly primitive for contemporary standards. The Artemis flights are becoming state of the art high-tech missions, but traveling to the moon remains dangerous. “There is cosmic radiation, especially sun bursts are a big risk, moon dust is poisonous and there are impacts from meteorites. The Apollo astronauts stayed only briefly, but this time they want to stay longer, and that is more difficult.”

Wim van Westrenen, professor of planetary sciences at the Vrije Uninversiteit Amsterdam, considers it unlikely that NASA will achieve 2024.

“I am not an engineer, but that seems very difficult to me. They succeeded in putting someone on the moon before 1970, and they were very lucky.”

China is working on a new space station around the Earth, but also wants to send people to the moon in the 1930s. For Van Westrenen, who has been researching water on the moon for years, all this attention to our neighbor in space is only welcome.

“Robots can do a lot, but if you send people there is so much with them: oxygen, water, food and much more. Then there is automatically more room for scientific instruments. And if you put them on the moon, you have a lot of luggage space left to take moonstones back. “

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