More than 50 years ago, the Apollo program took humanity to the moon. Now, the Artemis program wants not only to return to the surface of the moon, but also to go beyond it, to start a new era of space exploration.
Despite the decades separating them, these space programs have many similarities, but also many important differences. Do you know what they are? Let’s explain.
What is the meaning of the names Apollo and Artemis?
Both names are based on Greek mythology. Apollo was the third manned space program in the United States, after Mercury and Gemini. Abby Silverstein, the NASA administrator at the time, said he chose the name “as if he were naming his child.” According to him, the image of Apollo, the Greek god of light, music and the sun, “flying in his chariot across the sun” was something that reflected the grandeur of the program’s goals.
Artemis is a reference to the Greek goddess of the moon, the twin sister of Apollo. She is also the goddess of hunting, and her hunting companion was Orion, who names the spacecraft that the astronauts will travel to. According to Jim Bridenstine, a NASA official when the program was announced, the name also reflects the diversity of the agency’s team of astronauts and one of the program’s goals.
“Our astronaut crew is very diverse and highly qualified. I think it’s nice that 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will take the next man – and first woman – to the moon.”
What are the goals of the Apollo and Artemis programs?
The main purpose of the Apollo program was to visit the Moon, and to do so before the Soviets, against whom the United States was competing in the space race during the Cold War.
Over the course of three years, all five space missions that landed there (Apollo 11 to Apollo 17, with the exception of Apollo 13) can be classified as “terrain reconnaissance,” to understand more about the current formation and formation history of the Moon.
Artemis, on the other hand, has a long-term vision. Of course, the main goal is to set foot on the moon again, but this time to stay: NASA intends to create a permanent base on Earth’s natural satellite, which could serve as a “stepping stone” for more ambitious missions toward Mars, for example. To facilitate this, the program also envisions building a space station in lunar orbit, Moon Gate.
This long-term view is reflected in the selection of Artemis III’s landing sites: they are all near “permanently inflated regions” of the Moon’s south pole, craters that are never illuminated by the Sun because of their location.
It is believed to contain large deposits of ice, an essential raw material for our long-term survival, as it can be used in astronaut life support systems, as a source of water and oxygen, and as fuel for rockets.
What are the differences between the Saturn V and SLS missiles?
Developed in the 1960s at a cost of US$50 billion, the Saturn V holds the record for the heaviest payload sent to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), 140 tons. It is also the only rocket that has launched humans out of low orbit: there have been 10 missions, from Apollo 8 to Apollo 17.
With a height of 110 meters and a diameter of 10 meters, the Saturn 5 is a three-stage rocket capable of producing 7.6 million pounds of thrust. 15 units were built, and after the end of the Apollo program, spare parts were reused as components for North America’s first space station, Skylab.
In contrast, the version of the Space Launch System (SLS) that will be used on the first Artemis missions, called Block I, is slightly smaller, with a height of 98 meters. But it is capable of generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust, thanks to a mid-stage configuration with four RS-25 engines and two side-mounted auxiliary thrusters. With it, it can send 95 tons into low Earth orbit.
But over the course of the Artemis program, the SLS will evolve into something even more powerful: The Block II version, which will be used from Artemis IX, will produce 9.2 million pounds of thrust and can send up to 130 tons into low orbit.
Interestingly enough, the Space Launch System is nothing “new”. It is based on components of another now retired NASA program, the Space Shuttles. The center stage (the “orange rocket”) is similar to the external fuel tank that was used on the space shuttles. Also from them came the RS-25D engines, which were carefully removed and preserved after the retirement of the shuttles, and a pair of auxiliary thrusters, mounted on the side of the rocket and powered by solid fuel.
Therefore, the cost of its development was significantly lower than that of the Saturn V, about 23 billion US dollars. Interestingly, the cost of its launch is higher, estimated at more than $2 billion, compared to the $1.23 billion in current value of the Saturn V. This, by the way, is one of the main points of criticism for the Artemis program.
What is the difference between Artemis and Apollo spacecraft?
During the Apollo program, astronauts traveled aboard a “Command/Service Module” (CSM), a three-man spacecraft capable of supporting missions of up to 14 days. The habitable area was small, only 5.9 cubic meters.
Orion seats up to four crew members, on missions of up to 21 days. The internal space is also larger, at 8.9 cubic meters. an increase of nearly 50%. Another difference is in the electrical system: CSM was powered by fuel cells, while Orion would produce its own power using solar panels on the outside.
Orion is also able to travel farther into space. During Artemis I, it will reach 64,000 km after the moon’s orbit, which will allow us to get a better idea of what kind of “environment” the spacecraft and its crew will encounter during a trip into deep space.
But one thing has not changed in more than 50 years: the landing, or rather the “dipping”. Both Orion and CSM are designed for sea landing with the help of parachutes. After landing, ships and rescue teams are sent to pick up the astronauts and “catch” the spacecraft.
ambitions beyond the moon
The Artemis program page on NASA’s website reads: “Let’s use what we learned on and around the Moon to take the next giant step: sending the first astronauts to Mars.”
In fact, Artemis has a lot to teach NASA. If we want to explore Mars, we will have to master techniques such as using local resources (ISRU, on-site resource use), building structures and learning how to land and take off from spacecraft on other celestial bodies.
We will also have to develop new ways to protect our astronauts from radiation in space, and figure out how to produce food to keep them healthy and happy for long periods of time.
But the most important benefit, according to NASA, will be to inspire a whole new generation of scientists, engineers, astronauts, and discoverers: the Artemis generation.
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