Shortcuts / 01 December 2022

Moving to the Moon

Alright Squizers, strap yourselves in because we’re going to the Moon… Yep, you read that right – US space agency NASA reckons it’s about to take another giant leap for man (and woman) kind and this time it’s not just about walking on the moon – but actually setting up camp there. So in this week’s Squiz Shortcut, we take a look at what steps are being taken to return to the moon, how NASA is planning to set up a village, and why the 2030s will be the big space decade to watch.

I wouldn’t mind escaping Earth for a while…
We hear you. With the constant run of news about war, floods, and pandemics, getting away from it all with a little trip to the Moon doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.

So that could actually be a thing?
Possibly – space exploration is really heating up and having humans back on the Moon soon is starting to look pretty realistic. It’s a big deal since we haven’t been back there for about 50 years.

Why the huge gap?
Well, back in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart a minute into its flight, killing all 7 crew members aboard. And in 2003, another Space Shuttle, Columbia disintegrated while it was re-entering the atmosphere – again killing 7 astronauts.

Yeah, it really put the brakes on America’s space efforts – but they are well and truly back in the Moon business again.

What’s the latest?
You might have heard that NASA’s Artemis mission got underway a couple of weeks ago, sending the Orion capsule into space. It’s an uncrewed test flight and it’s really the first step towards getting us back to the Moon. It’s not actually going to land on the Big Cheese.

What’s it doing if it’s not landing there?
It will orbit nearby, getting as close as 100km to the surface before it comes back down to Earth and lands in the Pacific Ocean.

So there are no actual astronauts on board… What’s that about?
We know launching into space is a risky business. So this is really a safety test ahead of the next 6 missions between now and 2028 that will have crews on board.

What’s happening on this first flight?
Well, you can’t accuse NASA and its European counterparts joining them in this mission of not having a sense of humour. They’ve sent 2 mannequins named Helga and Zohar into space and fitted them with radiation-measuring sensors.

Radiation is a thing in space?
Yep – it’s called cosmic radiation and it’s actually a big deal for astronauts. It comes from the Sun as well as from outside our Solar System, and this mission is aiming to get a much better handle on that and see if they can do anything to mitigate the effects – like wearing radiation vests.

And what’s the deal with the name Artemis?
Like we said, it’s been nearly 50 years since humans were last on the Moon – that was the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The name Apollo was taken from Greek mythology – he was the God of the Sun and light. His twin sister Artemis was the Goddess of the Moon (among other things).

It’s all making sense now…
Yeah, and things are so far looking pretty good with this first Artemis flight – it launched on 16 November and it’s meant to be away for around a month all up, sending data and live images back before it ditches into the sea.

If they’ve already been to the Moon, why are they so keen to do it again?
America reckons it has huge scientific and economic potential – not a whole lot of research has been done since man first made it to the Moon in 1969. But the main reason NASA’s focusing on the Moon is so they can set up a base and use what they learn there to take the next giant leap for mankind: sending the first astronauts to Mars. That’s the long-term goal of the Artemis program.

When’s that going to happen?
That part might take a while, but the Moon plan has a pretty short timeframe. So there will be crewed test flight – Artemis 2 – in 2024 but that won’t land on the Moon. 2025 is the first planned lunar landing and NASA says that mission – called Artemis 3 – will have the first woman and first person of colour on board.

And then?
The following flights – Artemis 4, 5, 6 and a bunch of support missions – are actually going to start building infrastructure on the Moon. The idea is that each mission will make it easier for the next.

So they’re setting up a base camp there?
That’s the plan. It will include a mobile home, a Moon rover so they can get around, and a lot of scientific equipment. The goal is to be able to support up to 4 astronauts for 2 months at a time.

This whole space thing sounds like it’s getting pretty serious…
It sure is. The space industry is worth a whopping US$500 billion according to Forbes Magazine, and it grew by nearly 10% last year. That’s pretty significant considering so many countries are stalling or going backwards in their space funding.

So where’s all that moolah coming from?
Commercial space ventures actually made up about three-quarters of that figure – so while NASA and its other government partners are still doing their thing, a record number of civilians launched into space last year.

Like Captain Kirk?
Yep, William Shatner himself went into space… It’s incredible to think more paying customers made the journey last year than actual professional astronauts.

How many?
So more than 1,000 spacecraft were launched in just the first 6 months of 2022 according to a report from the Space Foundation. And more than 90% of those were in the private sector, with SpaceX’s Elon Musk, Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos all vying to transport crew and cargo for NASA.

How is Oz involved in all of this?
On a much smaller scale… Space is a $4 billion dollar sector here now and the federal government’s aiming to triple that by 2030, including the creation of 20,000 new jobs.

I’m guessing they’re not all astronauts?
Nope – a lot of it has got to do with nuts and bolts stuff like satellites. So many more things are now dependent on them including the internet, imagery like Google Earth that’s used in agriculture and of course, GPS technology.

So space actually influences a lot of things?
It sure does – space research often allows countries to leapfrog in R&D because scientists push the boundaries of what we know. There’s a whole list of incredible inventions that were developed during space research.

Go on…
There are artificial limbs, scratch-resistant lenses, insulin pumps, and the Dust Buster, just to name a few… And then there are things like nano satellites, robotics, navigation tools and even aerospace medicine.

I’m starting to see why Oz wants a piece of the space pie…
There’s much more to it than spaceships, that’s for sure.

Squiz recommends:

The Dish – Netflix

NASA’s Twitter and Instagram

Everyday objects that were actually invented for space exploration

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