The last Apollo mission to the Moon was almost 50 years ago and in that time no human has set foot on any celestial body outside of Earth. In those intervening decades, we have made advances in space science, engineering and commerce but, when it comes to hands-on experience in exploring another world, humanity is only now about to break the half-century mark of inaction. The Artemis Program aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon in preparation for missions to Mars and here Gabriel Swiney describes the journey to the creation of the Artemis Accords and why he believes these sometimes controversial commitments are vital for the long-term sustainability of Artemis.
The Artemis Program, first announced by the Trump Administration and endorsed in January 2021 by the Biden Administration, is a comprehensive plan by NASA to return humans to the Moon, build a sustainable architecture for lunar exploration, and leverage that experience to explore Mars.
Although the celestial destination is the same as Apollo, the programmes could not be more different. While Apollo was a purely US activity, Artemis will involve a coalition of partner countries and space agencies. Apollo hardware, from the Saturn V rockets to the lunar landers, was designed, owned and operated by the US government; for Artemis NASA is contracting commercial services, relying on private industry to design and provide the bulk of exploration hardware. The United States and its partners are not likely to be the only ones in the neighbourhood, as other countries, such as China and Russia, are also planning lunar exploration programmes.