The SLS rocket carefully delivered the Orion capsule on a 25.5-day journey to the Moon and back, testing out the integrated system for the first time in order to prepare for subsequent missions that are meant to return humans to the Moon no earlier than 2025. Since the Apollo missions ended in 1972, astronauts have not taken dusty strides across the lunar surface. But Artemis is set to change that, and do so under largely different circumstances.

“When the Apollo mission went up, we didn’t really know what we were doing scientifically,” Jason Steffen, physics and astronomy professor at the University of Nevada, told Gizmodo during a phone interview. “The Apollo program was really a military program under the guise of a scientific endeavor.”

Since then, space exploration has advanced well beyond the days of Apollo, and scientists are more aware of how to handle samples from another celestial body. “In the last half a century, NASA, and scientists in general, have refined the protocols that we put in place about how to treat samples,” Steffen said.


The past 50 years or so have seen a rise in robotic missions to the Moon, Mars, as well as other cosmic destinations. But Artemis marks a return to crewed missions, with the intent of establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon that may one day lead to landing astronauts on Mars. Indeed, Artemis is meant to get us back to the Moon, but it’s also serving as a precursor program for a future Mars initiative.

“It’s a lot cheaper to build a rover than it is to send a person there because the rover, you can kill don’t have to bring it back,” Steffen said. While it’s true that you can’t just leave astronauts stranded on other planets, having them on the Moon does add some value to the mission in terms of them being able to make decisions on the surface based on what they see in front of them.


“The Artemis Program is going to get us back to the exciting and important business of exploring another world by getting our boots dirty again,” Rice said.

There is also a quality to witnessing humanity achieve certain feats like landing on the Moon. “I view the return to the surface of another celestial object as humans reclaiming a spot in the universe that we haven’t been to in a long time,” Steffen said. “And I think that’s inspiring.”


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