will mark a significant milestone in US spaceflight history when it takes off in late 2024. Not only will it be the first time American astronauts have traveled further than LEO since the 1970s, and it will not only be the first opportunity for a female astronaut to set foot on the moon. The Artemis mission will carry out the crucial groundwork necessary for humanity to further explore and potentially colonize our closest celestial neighbor and ultimately serve as a starting point in our quest to reach Mars. However, since NASA and its partners will face a significant challenge in keeping their lunar colonists alive and healthy.
In the Apollo mission era, the idea of building even a semi-permanent presence on the moon’s surface was ridiculous, largely because the numerous lunar samples collected and returned to Earth during that period “were found dry as bone, “Rob Mueller, senior technologist in advanced project development at NASA, said during a SXSW 2021 panel.” That was the common wisdom, there is no water on the moon, so for many years that was the assumption held in the [aerospace] community.”
It wasn’t until the late 1990s that a neutron spectrometer aboard NASA found telltale evidence of hydrogen atoms, suggesting the possible presence of water ice. And it wasn’t until last October that water was detected on the surface of the sunlit moon, rather than just disappearing into deep, dark lunar craters.
“We had indications that H2O, the familiar water we know, might be present on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Division of Astrophysics in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. . “Now we know it’s there. This discovery challenges our understanding of the lunar surface and raises intriguing questions about resources relevant to deep space exploration. “
Based on this new evidence, Mueller estimates that there should be enough ice water available to “launch a vehicle like the space shuttle every day for 2,000 years. So there is a lot of water on the moon. The trick is that we have to find it, access it, extract it, and then use it economically. “
The revelation that the moon has a cache of water, which can be used both to quench an astronaut’s thirst and to power his rocket, could trigger a resource seizure the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of 1940. Pete Carrato, a senior consulting engineer for Bechtel Corporation, noted during the same panel discussion. “So the next gold rush for me is the south pole of the Moon, and it’s a hostile environment.”
This is because the largest accumulations of water are found in permanently shaded regions where the sun’s warm rays cannot reach the ice and vaporize it from the Moon’s surface. The problem is that the temperature in these regions is around 40 degrees Kelvin, which is colder than liquid nitrogen. It’s so cold that even modern mining rigs built for the most extreme environments on Earth would have a difficult time operating there. “The metal parts are lowered so cold, they become almost like glass,” Carrato stated.
“There’s also a strong vacuum on the moon, so you’re going to have some really weird problems like cold welding metals,” Mueller added. “If two metal surfaces are exposed to each other, they can actually come together in a big void and we’ve seen that before in space. It is a well known problem. “
The ubiquitous, razor-sharp electrostatic dust found on the moon also poses a danger to settlers, one that NASA has been grappling with since Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt suffered the first case of “hay fever. lunar”. Not only does this dust stick to rovers and spacesuits, but tiny particles find their way into sensitive electronics, clogging filters, clogging zippers and freezing gaskets. NASA has to counteract the electrical attraction of dust, but its effectiveness at scale remains to be seen. The micrometeorites themselves, whose surface impacts create this dangerous dust, will also need to be taken into account when designing lunar habitats.
But unlike the Apollo era, which helped usher in the Cold War, this time the American government is not doing it alone. The Artemis program is deeply coordinating its efforts alongside a host of business partners like SpaceX, which is tasked with putting the moon into orbit (for $ 331.8 million) in 2024.
“This will allow us to do it for a reasonable cost with possibly a return on investment, but we cannot do it like NASA. NASA is a government agency, the role of government is to facilitate the industry, “explained Mueller. “And so we are setting up the framework, the infrastructure and all the processes, the legal framework, the communications, the launch sites. All this is necessary, and then private industry can come in and do what they know how to do, which is to earn some money and create an economically efficient system ”.
While partnering with other nations in this effort is a great way to spread the start-up costs, it could lead to conflict over which member nation will have access and rights to which resources. Currently, these matters are governed by the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty, however, its language is not entirely clear, leaving the rules open to different readings. “The interpretation of the United States is that we will not claim the land or sovereignty, but we have the right to use the resources and the commercial industry has the right to use the resources,” Mueller said. Furthermore, the Outer Space Treaty lacks specific enforcement mechanisms and has not yet been ratified by the signatory nations, making its rules more like suggestions. Similarly, the Artemis Accords are guidelines rather than directives, although if enough nations sign and act within their framework, he continued, “it eventually becomes de facto law.”
Mars poses many of the same exploration and eventual colonization challenges as the Moon, such as deadly radiation, micrometeorite impacts, and adhering dust particles, not to mention the six-month journey needed just to get to the first, compared to three miserable days. for later. That great distance also tests our ability to remotely control the rovers and other teleoperated robotic systems that we send to the Red Planet due to the communication delay of a few minutes.
Prospective explorers and settlers will also have to contend with the wide temperature ranges that exist at each destination. On the Moon, for example, the sun’s side can be as hot as 125 degrees Celsius, while the shaded side can drop to -175 degrees Celsius, causing intense thermal stress on objects moving between them. Protection against galactic and solar radiation will also have to be an important factor in any decision about where to settle on the surface. Shaded valleys and cliff locations offer a higher degree of natural protection, so we will have to carefully consider the local topography when choosing settlement sites. One possible solution to the radiation problem would be to protect our artificial habitats with a 3D-printed shell made from Martian soil itself, said Xavier De Kestelier, Head of Design Technology and Innovation at Hassell, during the panel.
Maintaining the physical and mental health of the crew on these increasingly long missions will be of utmost importance and will have to be accomplished without help from home. The further we get from Earth, “the medical models we might need and the psychological pressures on the crew will be different,” said Beth Healey, director of the Emergency Clinic at Hôpital Du Valais. Each crew member will be called upon to serve in multiple roles beyond their individual specialties during the mission.
However, if we can overcome these challenges, the rewards will be substantial. “It is very difficult to live in space,” Mueller said in a separate panel discussion at SXSW 2021. “The good news is that there are many resources in our solar system and beyond, there are almost an infinite amount of resources compared to what that we have on Earth. “These include everything from water, atmospheric gases, volatiles, and rare metals to the crews’ own garbage and energy.” If you have sunlight, then you have access to energy, “he continued. Humanity has already shown that it is capable of inhabiting some of the most inhospitable areas on Earth, such as Concordia Station in Antarctica.With continued diligence, research, and international cooperation, the stars themselves may soon be within our grasp.