Once Artemis’ components and systems are tested and proven safe, Orion program chief Howard Hu said the plan is to have humans living on the moon “within this decade.”
People could stay on the Moon for long periods during this decade, a NASA official told the BBC, noting that habitats would be needed to support science missions.
Orion program chief Howard Hu said the launch of the Artemis rocket, which carries Orion, was a “historic day for human spaceflight.”
Orion is currently about 134,000 kilometers (83,300 miles) from the Moon.
The moment of Artemis 1’s launch
The 100-meter-tall Artemis 1 rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center as part of NASA’s mission to take astronauts back to Earth’s satellite.
Hu noted that watching Artemis take off was an “incredible feeling” and “a dream come true”. He also explained that if the current Artemis flight was successful, then the next one would be crewed, followed by a third, where astronauts would land on the Moon again for the first time since Apollo 17 50 years ago in December 1972.
One of the most critical phases of the Artemis I mission is the safe return of the Orion module to Earth. It will re-enter the planet’s atmosphere at a speed of 38,000km/h (24,000mph), i.e. 32 times the speed of sound, and the shield on its underside will be subjected to temperatures approaching 3,000C.
Once Artemis’ components and systems are tested and proven safe, Hu said the plan is to have humans living on the Moon “within this decade.”
Is there enough water?
A big part of the reason for going back to the Moon is to find out if there is water at the satellite’s south pole, he added, because that could be turned into fuel for craft going deeper into space — to Mars, for example.
“We’re going to send people to the surface and they’re going to live on it and do science,” Hu said.
“It’s going to be really, really important for us to learn a little beyond Earth orbit and then take a big step when we go to Mars.
And the Artemis missions allow us to have a viable platform and a transportation system that will allow us to learn how to operate in this deep space environment.”
The Orion capsule will return to Earth on December 11.