The new Moon rocket launch is named Artemis after Apollo’s mythological twin sister. The coming test of the Artemis rocket is re-raising the boisterous debate about returning to the Moon. Should we go back or move on? Here’s a quick summary of the pros and cons.
A human hasn’t stepped on the Moon since 1972! The new Moon rocket being tested is called the Space Launch System (SLS), and it’s the most powerful rocket that the U.S. has ever built. This first rocket launch, Artemis 1, is uncrewed for safety reasons, with the next step being a crewed flyby mission, Artemis II, in 2024. The goal is the first crewed Moon landing as soon as 2025 (Artemis III).
Why is the Moon mission named “Artemis”?
The new Moon program name is “Artemis” to echo the Apollo program that took astronauts to the Moon for the first time in 1969. Artemis is the Greek goddess of the Moon and the twin sister of Apollo! Fittingly, a woman will be on the crewed mission in 2025, the first woman to set foot on the Moon. The Artemis mission logo has an “A” like the Apollo program, but the A also represents the arrowhead from Artemis’s quiver; the blue crescent represents Earth as well as her bow.
Returning to the Moon: Pros and Cons
In general, our understanding of the Moon is dated and there’s lots to learn to understanding both our own planet and the origins of the solar system. For example, although the Apollo astronauts collected 842 pounds of Moon rocks and dust, the landing sites were all influenced by debris flung outward by the huge meteor impact four billion years ago that created “Mare Imbrium,” which is the largest round, dark blotch on the lunar surface. Hence, our dating of their ages might not give a truly accurate figure for the Moon’s age, and material from fresh landing sites could be very helpful.
Secondly, the ratio between the abundance of the three types of oxygen—which varies according to whether it has six neutrons like the most common oxygen, or seven or eight neutrons—is basically identical on the Moon and on Earth, to within a few parts per million. This is strange, since most researchers believe the Moon was created from a collision between Earth and a Mars-sized impactor that has posthumously been named Theia, and thus should contain a lot of alien Theia material, which in turn means it should have a different oxygen isotope ratio than is found in Earthly air, water, sand, and in all our oxygen-containing rocks. But it doesn’t. It’s identical. And this is so puzzling we’d like more rocks to check out their oxygen.
New instruments will be used to test the extraction of vital resources such as water. If we ever want to stay on the Moon for a long period of time, we’ll need ice to make water, and so a more dedicated search for ice would be a nice thing to do.
All 6 Apollo landings were at the same place (near the Moon’s equator). We’ve never explored many regions, including the south pole region, where there are deep craters which contain ice. Since the Moon doesn’t have atmosphere or flowing water, there isn’t erosion or weathering so it’s preserved the evidence of its origin; this, in turn, allows us to understand the beginnings of our solar system.
This is a stepping stone to Mars! Having humans on the Moon for a more extended period of time would allow us to test tools and prove humans deep space capabilities. For example, we need to test technologies for radiation exposure protection.
The Artemis mission, like the Apollo mission, inspired a staggering number of inventions back on Earth from insulin pumps to your mobile phones to airplane electronics to firefighter flame-retardant fabrics. It returned millions of dollars back to the U.S. economy covering everything from roof insulation to MRI machine innovation.
Finally, we need more U.S.-based engineers and scientists. The Apollo mission inspired many of today’s generation and the Artemis Moon mission would provide inspiration, hopes, and dreams to the next generation.
Going back for more human Moon landings is a very expensive proposition. The price tag for each launch of this new giant rocket may be as much as $4 billion, which some have called “unsustainable.” Meaning, too expensive. How important are these remaining questions when compared with such expensive pressing Earthly challenges as dealing with climate change? But the real bottom line is whether it’s worth the monetary treasure and risk of human life to return to a place we already visited half a dozen times 50 years ago.
Moreover, the public grew bored after the very first Apollo mission. Won’t people shrug their shoulders when astronauts repeat the landing thing? Would this be an expensive case of been-there-done-that?
Finally, shouldn’t we be focusing on robotic missions, which yield far more scientific returns dollar-for-dollar? When we think about the James Webb telescope, Hubble, The Cassini mission to Saturn, the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto, and countless others, should we risk human lives anymore?
While you perhaps ponder man’s voyage to the Moon, it may be a good time to review what the original Apollo missions taught us a half century ago:
The Ten Most Important Moon Discoveries
We used to think of lunar mountains as pointy and sharp. It’s how artists had always drawn the Moon. The lack of lunar rain or wind—any sort of erosion—supported this. But the actual Moon has only rounded mountains, more resembling the Catskills than the Rockies. Turns out, eons of countless small meteor impacts have acted like tiny hammers, pounding everything into a worn appearance.
Thanks to seismometers planted on the Moon’s surface by several Apollo teams, we learned that whenever the moon gets a hard impact, a moonquake is created that goes on and on for over 2 hours. When struck, the moon rings like a giant gong.
The Moon’s surface is covered with fine dust, as smooth as baby powder. A few inches down it gets so compact it can support any amount of weight.
The Moon’s night and day temperatures are easy to remember. In most places the ground reaches roughly 240° F. degrees by day, and minus 240° by night.
Moon rocks are anhydrous, meaning they contain no water. You can’t even create water using anything you’d find in a Moon rock.
Moon rocks were all formed from high-heat events. There is no sedimentary rock, nothing formed in layers like Earth’s limestone or shale.
The lunar soil or regolith varies from five to 80 feet deep. Unlike Earth soil, it contains no air spaces. It’s almost entirely oxygen and silicon, SiO2, like a superfine sand.
The Moon has nearly the same age as Earth—4 1/2 billion years.
All craters come from meteor impacts, none from volcanoes.
The Moon is leaving us. Thanks to the corner cubes left behind at three of the Apollo landing sites, laser pulses from Earth determine the moon’s distance with one-inch accuracy. This shows that the moon is slowly spiraling away from us at the rate of 1 1/2 inches per year.