Orion crew capsule for moon mission is now complete
Priya Wadhwa
Space Exploration

Orion crew capsule for moon mission is now complete

50 years since Apollo 11, NASA plans another mission to the moon

There is nothing like a big anniversary to remind people about something as consequential as the mission to the moon. Why haven’t there been any humans to the moon since Apollo programme? We are talking about going to Mars, why don't we cover Moon first?

Well, for one, NASA’s lunar programmes were limited due to their high costs and relatively low value.

But now, NASA is planning another mission to the Moon; and has marked the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 that took the very first humans to the moon, with the announcement of Orion crew capsule's completion. This new capsule will take astronauts back to the moon for the very first time since the last Apollo 17 mission that touched down on the moon in December 1972.

Orion’s capsule is designed to be a reusable capsule which can carry six astronauts. Considering its reusable factor, it can be considered as a “sustainable” option for carrying humans beyond Earth. However, we are pretty sure that carrying just six humans in a spacecraft that uses that much of fuel is not sustainable in any way.

The Orion capsule will first fly sometime after June 2020, without any humans, as part of the mission called Artemis 1. Yes, you read that right. The first mission will be unmanned, being propelled by the new Space Launch System. It will spend three weeks in space, including 6 days of orbiting the moon, before returning back to Earth.

"[This is] an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity."
Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator

This is because NASA needs to test a few things, including the high-speed re-try into the Earth’s atmosphere which will give insight into the efficacy of the Orion capsule’s thermal shielding. Once everything is tested, only then will NASA send humans on the Artemis 2 mission in 2022; with only the third mission, Artemis 3 actually carrying astronauts to the moon’s surface in 2024.

Lockheed Martin, NASA’s contractor responsible for Orion’s construction, said that currently, the combined crew module and service module is being properly integrated. They will undergo a series of tests at the Kennedy Space Centre based in Florida by the end of 2019; which is on the schedule, before it begins final preparations for launch.

The purpose behind the Artemis missions is still unclear. The 50th anniversary seems to have given NASA a green light to continue its missions to the moon. However, while SpaceX and the UAE are planning missions on Mars with the vision that one day humans will live on the red planet, we are wondering what the missions to the moon are for.