Science

Space: the global race to take back the Moon is in full swing

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NASA announced in early November that the Artemis mission to return to the Moon would be operational by 2025 at the earliest. But America’s ambition to send a man back to the moon remains intact. And fifty years after the last Apollo mission, the Moon has never awakened so many appetites …

Of course, all these space missions remain on Mars to find out if a life form existed on the red planet and if it will one day allow men to establish colonies there. And Toulouse has largely played its part since the launch of the Curiosity rover.

Of course, this entire New Space economy is taking shape, powered by digital billionaires (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson) who spend lavishly to imagine tomorrow’s space tourism or create constellations of satellites. the world at a time when 37% of humanity still does not have access to it.

There are all these great space missions carried out by the historical actors in space – the United States, Russia, Europe – and by the new space powers – China, India – that send probes to the borders of our solar system.

There is still this fierce desire to understand the universe, from the Pic du Midi observatory and, in a few weeks, from the James Webb telescope that will succeed Hubble with the promise of incredible discoveries.

Half a century after Apollo 17

There are also the beginnings of geopolitical space conflicts between espionage or even the destruction of satellites like Star Wars.

Finally, there are these projects already imagined by science fiction literature or cinema and which materialize as the one that will consist of deflecting an asteroid.

But not everything seems nothing compared to man’s urge to return to the Moon. As if in each one of us a Tintin was sleeping ready to wake up to raise again that “lunar objective” that has long made humanity dream and then fascinated it when on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstong became the first man to set foot on the lunar soil. . “It is a small step for [un] man, [mais] a great leap for Humanity ”.

Today, 49 years after the last mission of the Apollo program, Apollo 17 that ended on December 19, 1972, the return to the moon is once again on people’s minds. As soon as Thomas Pesquet returned to Earth after his six-month mission to the International Space Station (ISS), he signaled his desire to set course for our nearest satellite. “Setting foot on the Moon, of course, is everyone’s dream. Even if we do not see each other face to face, we still play a role in this exploration, in my opinion it will be a bit of an exciting experience for years to come ”, confided the astronaut. At 43, Thomas Pesquet, the first French commander of the ISS, meets all the criteria and stands a good chance of being the European astronaut to embark on the Artemis program launched by NASA.

NASA is overdue

An eminently complex program that has already been delayed: from 2024 to 2025 “at the earliest,” NASA announced on November 9. In question, the dispute between NASA and Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ company, which challenged a contract between NASA and Space X for the construction of the lunar landing gear. “We have lost almost seven months in litigation, and that probably delayed the first human landing until 2025 at the earliest,” NASA chief Bill Nelson told a news conference. But “there are other reasons,” he added. The 2024 date set by the Trump administration was not “technically feasible,” he said. He also criticized the lack of funds allocated by Congress in recent years for the development of the lunar landing gear. However, the Artemis 1 mission, which will not include an astronaut on board, is still scheduled for February 2022.

All Artemis missions will use NASA’s new giant rocket, called the SLS, which will propel the Orion capsule to the moon. It is assembled at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, awaiting lift-off. The cost of developing this capsule, in which the astronauts will be located, has increased from 6.7 billion to 9.3 billion to Artemis 2. The astronauts will have to be transferred aboard a lunar landing craft to land on the moon and get out. . Named Starship, the lunar lander is currently under construction by Space X in Texas.

The US mission covers important technical, scientific and geopolitical issues. In March 2019, Donald Trump had decided to return American astronauts to the Moon in 2024, instead of 2028. For the president of Make America Great Again, regaining American leadership in space, especially in the face of Chinese ambitions, was a priority. “We don’t want China, Russia and other countries to dominate us, we have always dominated. My administration will take the torch as the first country in space exploration, “Trump hammered in 2018. A year later his vice president Mike Pence criticized NASA’s slowness and assured him:” The first woman and the next man on the moon will be American astronauts. , launched by American rockets from American soil ”.

The United States and Europe versus China’s ambitions

This is because, unlike the Apollo program, the United States is no longer alone in the dream of the Moon, the first step to Mars, and has started a global race. Despite difficulties in balancing its budget and forging partnerships with India and Europe, Russia’s Roscosmos agency, which has not been close to the moon since 1976, is preparing four lunar missions. But the launch of its Luna-25 probe was postponed last August until May 2022 due to technical problems.

China, which plans to launch manned missions to the Moon for 2025-2030, for its part, has embarked on a robotic program on the surface of the Moon, more particularly on the hidden, never-explored surface. She also brought many samples of lunar rocks to Earth. Japan and India are also in the game.

Finally, the European space agency theorized with the Chinese “lunar village”: a first colony of six to ten people (scientists, engineers, technicians) could settle on the Moon by 2030. Ultimately, a thousand men could set foot in lunar soil. in 2050.

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