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  • On December 14, 1972,

  • astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt

  • blasted off the moon and headed home.

  • Astronaut: We're on our way, Houston!

  • Narrator: It was the last time any human stepped foot

  • on the lunar surface.

  • But NASA is hoping that's about to change.

  • This is the new era of space exploration.

  • And it's even more ambitious than before.

  • In May 2019, NASA officially announced

  • its new project, Artemis.

  • Dave Mosher: Artemis is NASA's big plan to go

  • back to the moon by 2024,

  • to land the first woman and the next man

  • on the surface of the moon.

  • Narrator: The mission was named in homage

  • to Apollo's twin sister, Artemis,

  • the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon.

  • But just because it bears a similar name

  • doesn't make it an Apollo rerun.

  • Where Apollo astronauts only spent hours or days

  • on the lunar surface,

  • Artemis astronauts will potentially

  • spend weeks there

  • to explore it for resources

  • and investigate the far side of the moon,

  • as well as to test technologies

  • for future deep-space missions.

  • This will give scientists a much better understanding

  • of the solar system, its history,

  • and how to operate in deep space.

  • And that's the pressing reason for this mission.

  • Mosher: But it's also a dry run for going to Mars,

  • which is much father and much harder.

  • The journey, instead of being three days to the moon,

  • is six to nine months.

  • So you need to practice these deep-space operations,

  • and you also need to practice surface operations.

  • The moon is a great place to go for that

  • because it's so close.

  • Narrator: But even though it's close,

  • that doesn't mean it's cheap.

  • NASA said it will need $20 billion to $30 billion

  • for the next mission.

  • That's up to $6 billion annually over the next five years,

  • and that's on top of its current $20-billion-plus

  • annual budget.

  • Though, for comparison, $30 billion is only

  • about 4% of the US's annual military budget.

  • Or about three of the Navy's newest nuclear submarines.

  • Now, a lot of Artemis' budget will go towards

  • building NASA's next-generation rocket,

  • the Space Launch System, or SLS.

  • Mosher: Space Launch System is this gargantuan rocket

  • that will actually take the astronauts

  • into orbit around Earth

  • and a bunch of the equipment they need to go up there, too.

  • Narrator: Once finished, it will be

  • the most powerful rocket ever made.

  • But things with the SLS haven't exactly gone to plan.

  • Mosher: The first rocket was supposed to launch in 2017,

  • and it's now 2019 and they're not looking

  • to launch the first one until 2021.

  • So they're years behind schedule,

  • billions of dollars over budget,

  • and they're supposed to make

  • one of these every year or two going forward.

  • Narrator: To top it off, SLS isn't reusable,

  • like SpaceX's Falcon Heavy.

  • So that means after each launch,

  • the rocket will be discarded.

  • That's an estimated $1.5 billion to $3 billion

  • NASA won't get back for every launch.

  • And that raises the question,

  • why doesn't it just team up with SpaceX

  • and use the Falcon Heavy?

  • Mosher: The advantages of SLS is that it's just bigger,

  • and that's important if you're trying

  • to get big space-station modules

  • and lunar landers out into space.

  • Narrator: Estimates show the Falcon Heavy could

  • launch a payload of about 21,000 kilograms to the moon,

  • whereas NASA says the SLS will lift more than twice that.

  • So, yeah, size definitely matters, but it's also about...

  • Mosher: Politics, jobs, and other missions.

  • So, politics, because

  • these people in Congress who pull the purse strings

  • have a lot of districts where NASA centers are located.

  • The second part, jobs, is because

  • there are tens of thousands of people employed to build

  • and maintain and do all the things you need to do

  • to create Space Launch System.

  • And the third part is that NASA is legally bound

  • to use this rocket for some missions,

  • including the Europa Clipper,

  • which is supposed to go out to Jupiter

  • and look for signs of life around one of its icy moons.

  • Narrator: Now, contrary to old sci-fi films,

  • rockets don't land on the moon.

  • There's a series of steps that happen first,

  • including rocket-stage separations

  • and reaching lunar orbit.

  • Now, for Apollo astronauts,

  • they flew their spacecraft into lunar orbit,

  • undocked the lunar lander,

  • and rode it down to the surface.

  • Artemis has bigger plans.

  • Like Apollo, Artemis will fly a spacecraft called Orion

  • towards the moon.

  • But then, instead of orbiting the moon by itself,

  • it will dock at what NASA has dubbed the Gateway.

  • Mosher: The Gateway is kind of like this

  • orbital outpost for the moon.

  • It's the place you go to sort of stock up,

  • get everything you need, get your affairs in order.

  • Narrator: So, it will act as a living space

  • for astronauts going to and from the moon.

  • But it will also house an in-space laboratory

  • and be a port for future deep-space missions,

  • such as a trip to Mars.

  • After two test missions to the moon's orbit,

  • NASA plans to start building the Gateway in 2022,

  • but astronauts still need a way to and from

  • the lunar surface.

  • That's where the lunar lander comes in.

  • And this is one part of the mission NASA might not build.

  • Mosher: Its administrator has said, look, commercial space,

  • like companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX,

  • they're getting better at this than we are.

  • Narrator: Whether NASA decides to team up or not

  • is a mystery right now.

  • But if anything is certain,

  • it's that temporary trips to and from the moon

  • will only be the start.

  • Ultimately, NASA wants a permanent lunar base

  • where astronauts can live and work on the moon.

  • Mosher: So, after the first landing, in 2024,

  • NASA is hoping to do one, about one a year, through 2028,

  • set up this moon base,

  • and then we're really talking about something interesting,

  • which is mining the moon for water.

  • Water you can split into hydrogen and oxygen,

  • which are two really important rocket fuels.

  • Narrator: Right now, humans are limited

  • to how far we can travel in space

  • by the amount of fuel in our rocket tanks at launch.

  • But once you can make rocket fuel in space,

  • then you can travel much farther.

  • Mosher: They want to set up this lunar base

  • on the surface to mine all the water

  • and make the Gateway this big, go-to destination

  • for refueling and this pit stop for Mars.

  • Narrator: And then, if they can figure all that out?

  • Mosher: We're talking about expanding the reach

  • of the human race throughout the solar system.

  • Narrator: Sounds great in theory,

  • but in reality, there's gonna be some tension.

  • Mosher: The politics of the moon are going to get very weird

  • in the coming decades

  • if we start building permanent human bases there.

  • China wants to go there, NASA wants to go there,

  • SpaceX wants to go there,

  • but international space law basically says

  • you can't claim any territory in space

  • or on another planet, another body.

  • Narrator: That's right, space law.

  • In 1967, the United Nations founded the Outer Space Treaty.

  • Ratified by 109 countries,

  • this first treaty sets boundaries for space travel.

  • There have been four more treaties since,

  • but the last was signed decades ago.

  • So, currently, space law is pretty outdated.

  • Mosher: The international space law has to catch up

  • to the current times.

  • And we haven't done that yet.

  • Narrator: For example, it lacks clarity,

  • especially with regards to mining resources.

  • There is nothing on who would own the resources,

  • whether they would need a license,

  • or how to settle disputes,

  • or even who can approve the mining in the first place.

  • Solving these and other issues will be key

  • to the new era of space exploration envisioned by NASA.

  • If it happens, that is.

  • Mosher: There isn't the political willpower,

  • because of that,

  • and we're really pinched for dollars,

  • with all of the domestic issues and climate change

  • and other major priorities

  • that are happening here on Earth.

  • So whether or not NASA can pull this off

  • remains to be seen.

  • Narrator: But even if NASA doesn't,

  • maybe someone else will.

On December 14, 1972,

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