How will we get there?
A lot has changed since the Apollo program! Getting humans to the Moon will involve new methods and technologies to support larger crews, longer visits, and, eventually, living on the Moon. Here are some of the things NASA and its partner companies are working on now:
The Space Launch System (SLS) Rocket: The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is adaptable and powerful enough to send a human-crewed mission to the Moon and Mars and robotic missions to Saturn and Jupiter. Astronauts need to reach a speed of 24,500 miles per hour to get to the Moon! SLS achieves this speed by attaching two separate rockets to a central rocket called the core stage. Like the Saturn V rocket from the Apollo missions, astronauts and other payloads ride on top of the rocket.
The Orion Spacecraft: Astronauts will travel to the Moon and back in the Orion Spacecraft, which includes Support, Crew, and Escape Modules. The Support Module holds systems to keep the astronauts alive, fuel for navigation, and solar panels for power. The Escape Module allows the astronauts to get away from the SLS rocket if something goes wrong during launch. The Crew Module is designed to house four astronauts. It’s only a couple of meters wider than the Command Module of the Apollo mission. Still, it’s roomier on the inside because modern computers, sensors, and tools take up less space. When it returns to Earth, the Crew Module uses a heat shield to enter the atmosphere, and giant parachutes land in the ocean.
The Gateway: The Gateway will be an outpost in lunar orbit where astronauts transfer from the Crew Module to a lunar lander. It can also store the supplies needed to build and sustain a community on the surface and serve as a future outpost for astronauts launching on missions to Mars and beyond.
Human Landing System: NASA needs another rocket to get humans to the surface of the Moon and back. In April 2021, NASA selected SpaceX to develop a Starship that could land humans on the Moon. The Starship is designed to be more robust than Apollo’s Lunar Module. In the Starship, astronauts can skip docking with the Gateway before landing on the Moon by traveling straight from the Earth.
Artemis Base Camp: Eventually, NASA wants to send teams of astronauts to live and work on the Moon for long periods. NASA and its partners are designing habitats, space suits, and lunar vehicles to make this possible. Experiments on the International Space Station and Earth are helping astronauts understand how to grow food in space. Robotic missions like VIPER will search for water and better understand the environment. Subsequent uncrewed missions will land the supplies needed to set up camp.