They’re Going to the Moon!

It’s in the news, it’s been confirmed…we have a team of astronauts selected for the Artemis II lunar mission!

Is it as exciting as when the Apollo astronauts were announced? No, because with Apollo we were in a fanatical, political, socio-economic race with the Soviet Union. The space race was also a race for domination in technology, technology that could be translated to military use. For many it was  kind of scary too. The 1960s were in a way like going through puberty, full of possibility but thoroughly under the control of hormones. Knee jerk reactions, emotional outbursts, misunderstandings that led to conflict, the works. Our world was under Cold War influence and the leaders who controlled nuclear arsenals. Yeah, it was different.

Technology was sooo different in the 1960s too. The US and USSR were like teenagers with new toys. The new toys…computers. It was during this time that IBM finally successfully competed with human mathematicians  to calculate the parameters needed for launch, orbit, de-orbit, and landing astronauts safely. It took a giant machine in a huge room, with air conditioning and half a dozen specialist engineers babysitting it. Oh, and it took some of the human mathematicians babysitting the engineers too.

That was then and I hope we have gained some benefit of experience from it.

Today however we are not so much in a race with another country or ideology. Today NASA is contending with the likes of Bezos, Musk, and other Space Cowboys who deign to do it their way. Fortunately, NASA has the good sense to partner with these guys, because they have drive and the goods to deliver. Maybe because of their competition the Artemis program has progressed. It has been a fitful start-stop issue for NASA. Many presidents have proposed we go back to the Moon and made verbal commitments to do it, only to see it fade. The first components of what would become Artemis were proposed by President George W. Bush, canceled with a new mission (Mars) by President Barak Obama, then brought back by President Donald Trump.

So it goes for NASA.

Now, NASA has teamed up with a group of international space agencies as well as private space exploration companies and that helps spread the cost – unlike the 60s, NASA doesn’t have a blank checkbook to ‘get it done’. And we have a team selected.

Christina Hammock Koch, Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Jeremy Hansen (Canadian Space Agency) are going to the Moon, well, around the Moon, in Artemis II. They will be testing all the systems needed to manage the lunar landing mission, except for the landing itself. That will be later, just like with the Apollo missions. Is it as exciting as Apollo? No, but it is really exciting!

Next week a look at hardware and the astronauts.

What’s in the Sky?

April 10 and 11 ; after sunset; west: Venus with the Pleiades to its right and Mercury near the horizon – use binoculars.

April 14; around 10pm CDT; west: Mars and Epsilon Geminorum (Mebsuta) pair up in the sky