The launch of Artemis 1 has been postponed until at least Friday, but the excitement for a new adventure in space isn’t going to wane anytime soon.
The return of a US spacecraft to the Moon for the first time in 50 years is generating all sorts of buzz, including rumors about the long-term possibility of launching a mission to Mars.
And while the 32-story-tall Space Launch System rocket and its 8.8 million pounds of thrust will do much of the initial heavy lifting after liftoff, the Orion unmanned spacecraft will do most of the critical work for NASA scientists during their 42 days. travel as it orbits around the moon and recedes another 40,000 miles beyond.
While it’s clear that NASA as a brand isn’t going to get boring any time soon – one superficial reason is the number of NASA t-shirts and gear we see as we roll around town – the US space program has always taken some flak , largely during the cost. Artemis 1 is no different.
The rocket that is critically important to the Artemis 1 mission is one of those critics’ targets: The first three launches during the entire Artemis project will each cost roughly $4 billion, an amount that would make a lot of noise, especially considering how the US spends, or skimps on, various social programs. Critics of the Artemis 1 launch also say the total price tag for this project, estimated at $93 billion, is the result of a combination of powerful allies in Congress, stubborn bureaucracy and problems with government contractors.
So why not let private companies like SpaceX get on with 21st century space exploration and take that off the plate of the US federal government? Well, for starters, for all its ups and downs, the US space program has focused on promoting awareness, not generating publicity by allowing a select few billionaires and celebrities to get expensive thrills in the far reaches of the atmosphere. land. Sure, the launches and missions over the years have generated a lot of media coverage and iconic imagery, but much of the hard work and innovation that happens behind the scenes continues largely, for the most part unannounced.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is one of the stakeholders in the US space program and is pleased to remind you of the various technologies that have emerged from the decades-long quest to explore the moon and beyond. The list is long: smartphone cameras, LED lighting, scratch-resistant lenses, CAT scanning technology, athletic shoes, landmine clearance, foil blankets, water purification systems, memory foam, laptops, and, for For Trader Joe fans and die-hard backpackers, freeze dry foods like fruit, curry entrees, and buffalo spiced chicken and mac and cheese meals.
But, there are additional reasons why space exploration presents society with long-term benefits. National security is among them. The related jobs and careers in STEM that result from this Artemis 1 project will not necessarily be limited to working for NASA or the US military. They include another benefit. (Fun fact: Artemis 1 has this first for NASA; it will have a female launch director.) Finally, environmental awareness is another reason to consider.
Remember that no human being laid eyes on Earth, as when he saw the planet in its entirety, until the Apollo 8 mission in December 1968. “It can be convincingly argued that lunar travel, humanity’s first adventure in deep space, transformed our understanding. of our place in the universe,” wrote the UK Observer editorial board yesterday.
Astronaut Bill Anders’ photographs of Earth in 1968 gave the public a perspective of the world not as oceans and continents, but as a whole entity. “We came all this way to explore the moon, and most importantly, we discovered Earth,” Anders said after that mission.
Seven months later, Neil Armstrong took his first historic steps on the moon. He later commented: “Suddenly I realized that this pretty little blue pea was the Earth. I raised my thumb and closed one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
It was those images that helped spark growing environmental awareness inside and outside the US, helping to lead to the first Earth Day a year later.
As the Observer summarized:
“Anders, Armstrong and the other Apollo astronauts had a profound impact on changing our perspective of our world. His observations and experiences highlighted the fragility of the Earth and played a key role in the birth of the environmental movement in the late 1960s. From that perspective, lunar travel can be seen to have provided good value for money and suggests that there is still something to be gained by continuing to put men and women into space. Determining the exact price is more problematic, but placing human beings on the surface of another world should be seen as an act that is generally beneficial to our species.”
If you missed live coverage of the launch, sites like Space.com will host a replay of the countdown, launch, and liftoff into space.
Image Credit: Pedro Lastra via Unsplash