NASA’s Moon to Mars Plans, Artemis Lunar Program Gets Fast Tracked in 20196 min read

In 2019, NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the agency’s Apollo 11 Moon landing, the most historic moment in space exploration, while also making significant progress toward putting the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program.

Amy Ross, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, left, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, second from left, watch as Kristine Davis, a spacesuit engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), and Dustin Gohmert, Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit, right, wave after being introduced by the administrator, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The xEMU suit improves on the suits previous worn on the Moon during the Apollo era and those currently in use for spacewalks outside the International Space Station and will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. The Orion suit is designed for a custom fit and incorporates safety technology and mobility features that will help protect astronauts on launch day, in emergency situations, high-risk parts of missions near the Moon, and during the high-speed return to Earth. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Through America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, Artemis gained bipartisan support this year among members of Congress, the U.S aerospace industry, as well as with international partners, including Canada, Australia, and Japan, and member states of the European Space Agency.

“2019 will be remembered as the year the Artemis program really became a reality with real spaceflight hardware built, U.S. commercial and international partnerships standing behind it, and hardworking teams across NASA and the world coming together like never before to quickly and sustainably explore the Moon and use what we learn there to enable humanity’s next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “While the Artemis program came into sharp focus this year, NASA continued to show what leading in space exploration is all about, whether it was kicking off 2019 with New Horizons’ historic Kuiper Belt object flyby, conducting the first all-woman spacewalk outside the International Space Station, or developing the first flying robotic explorer to study Saturn’s moon Titan. And wait until you see what we do in 2020!”

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer received a successful clean audit in 2019 – the ninth consecutive clean financial audit opinion for the agency. And for the eighth year in a row, NASA retained its standing as the number one large agency in the Best Places to Work in Government rankings, published by the Partnership for Public Service.

“Throughout this year, as I have visited each of our centers, I have personally witnessed their unparalleled commitment to accomplishing our mission. The daily devotion of our employees makes them well deserving of this award,” Bridenstine said. “I am honored to lead such a dedicated team. They are what makes NASA the Best Place to Work in Government.”

Moon to Mars
This year, NASA officially named the new lunar exploration program Artemis, for the goddess of the Moon and twin sister of Apollo. Under Artemis, NASA will send new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, accelerate plans to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024, and establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.

Science and technology progress in Artemis includes:

  • Two sets of Moon rocks, sealed since they were collected by Apollo astronauts and returned to Earth nearly 50 years ago, were opened for study.
  • NASA announced it will send a new mobile robot, VIPER, to the lunar South Pole to scout and sample ice in the region.
  • Twelve new lunar science and technology investigations were selected in February and July, 24 total, to fly on early Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) flights to the Moon.
  • The agency awarded initial surface task orders for commercial Moon deliveries.
  • New CLPS contracts were awarded to five companies to support the next generation of lunar landers that can land heavier payloads on the surface of the Moon. A total of 14 companies now are eligible to bid on these deliveries.
  • NASA received a record-breaking 10,932,295 names to travel to Mars on the agency’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission.
  • Mars helicopter animation
    Animation of Mars helicopter and Mars 2020 rover.
    Credits: NASA/JPL-CalTech

    Engineers attached the Mars Helicopter to the Mars 2020 rover. After the rover lands at the Jezero Crater, the helicopter will be deployed to conduct test flights.

  • The international mission team for NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander continues to assess the lander’s heat probe, while the lander’s seismometer collects data on quakes.
  • NASA selected 14 Tipping Point and 19 Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity proposals from U.S. companies that focus on technologies and capabilities needed for a sustainable presence on the Moon by 2028.
  • The agency partnered with Advanced Space to develop and build a pathfinder CubeSat destined for the same lunar orbit planned for NASA’s lunar Gateway.
  • The Sample Analysis at Mars chemistry lab on NASA’s Curiosity rover measured seasonal methane and oxygen spikes in Mar’s atmosphere.
  • Technology sensors and an in-situ resource utilization experiment were installed on the Mars 2020 entry vehicle and rover.

NASA continues to advance development of our Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, which will send astronauts to deep space.

  • NASA demonstrated that Orion’s launch abort system can pull astronauts to safety if an emergency occurs during launch, and assembled the spacecraft for the first Artemis mission, Artemis I. It was delivered to Ohio for final testing for the extreme environment of space before it’s returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch preparation.
  • On the SLS rocket for the first Artemis mission, engineers completed the segments for the boosters and assembled the core stage. The core stage next will ship to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for a Green Run test of the integrated propulsion system before joining Orion at Kennedy for stacking.
  • Teams at Kennedy conducted a series of water flow tests of the sound suppression system at the launch pad and tested the flow of cryogenic fluids through the pad’s infrastructure – the systems that will send liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to the rocket at the time of launch.
  • The launch team at Kennedy held its first formal training simulation for Artemis  I, and flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston simulated part of Orion’s uncrewed flight to the Moon.

Work also began on hardware for Artemis II, the first SLS/Orion test flight with astronauts aboard. NASA and Northrop Grumman technicians applied insulation to the final booster motor segment of SLS and completed casting of all 10 booster motor segments. The agency also issued a request for proposals from U.S. small satellite developers to fly their missions as secondary payloads on Artemis II.

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Sebastien Clarke
Sebastien Clarke

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