Astronauts are on their way to live and work on the Moon before the decade is out, according to A NASA official.
Humans could be active on the moon for “periods” before 2030, with habitats to live in and rovers to support their work, said Howard Hu, head of the US agency’s lunar rover program.
“Certainly, in this decade, we’re going to have people living for periods, depending on how long we’re going to be on the surface. They’re going to have habitats, they’re going to have rovers on Earth,” he told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuensberg programme. “We’re going to send people to surface, and they will live on that surface and do science.”
Hu was put in charge of NASA’s Deep Space Exploration spacecraft in February, and he was speaking Sunday as the 98-meter (322-foot) Artemis rocket powered toward the moon on its surface. The first unmanned mission.
The giant rocket, topped by the Orion spacecraft, launched Wednesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida after a series of delays due to technical failures and hurricanes.
The spacecraft carries three well-fitting mannequins, which will record the stresses and strains of the Artemis 1 mission. The rocket is now about 83,000 miles (134,000 kilometers) from the Moon.
“It’s the first step we’re taking for long-term deep space exploration, not just for the United States but for the world. I think this is a historic day for NASA, but it’s also a historic day for all the people who love human spaceflight and deep space exploration.
“We will go back to the moon. We are working towards a sustainable program and this is the vehicle that will carry the people who will take us back to the moon again.”
The spacecraft will fly within 60 miles of the moon and continue for another 40,000 miles before swinging by again and aiming to touch down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11. The spacecraft will travel 1.3 million miles on a 25-day mission, the farthest a spacecraft ever built for humans.
Upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft will travel at about 25,000 miles per hour, sending the temperature of its heat shield nearly 2,800 degrees Celsius (5,000 Fahrenheit). Showers are expected off the coast of San Diego.
The successful mission will pave the way for follow-up Artemis 2 and 3 voyages, both of which send humans around the moon and back. The Artemis 3 mission, which may not launch until 2026, is expected to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time since Apollo 17 in December 1972. Under NASA’s plans, that mission will land the first woman on the moon, with a subsequent visit landing the first person of color on the surface of the moon.
The Artemis program, named after the twin sister of Apollo, also plans to build the Lunar Gateway, a space station where astronauts will live and work as they orbit the moon. “Going forward is really Mars,” Hu told the BBC. “This is a bigger starting point, a two-year journey, so it’s going to be really important to learn beyond Earth’s orbit.”