Neil Armstrong took a “small step” of his history on the Moon in 1969. And just three years later, the Apollo astronauts finally left our neighboring celestial body. Since then, hundreds of astronauts have been launched into space, but mostly astronauts orbiting the Earth. International Space Station. In fact, no one ventures more than a few hundred kilometers from Earth.
However, the US-led Artemis program aims to return humans to the Moon within this decade – with Goddess 1 is on its way back to Earth as part of its first test flight, circumnavigating the Moon.
The most relevant difference between the Apollo era and the mid-2020s is the incredible improvement in computer and robotics power. Furthermore, superpower rivalry can no longer justify large expenditures, as in the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. In our recent book “The end of the astronauts“, Donald the jeweler and I argue that these changes weaken the case for the project.
The Artemis quest is using the new Nasa brand space launch system, which is the most powerful rocket ever – similar in design to the Saturn V rocket that sent dozens of Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Like its predecessors, the Artemis turbocharger combines liquid hydrogen and oxygen to generate enormous lift before falling into the ocean, never to be used again. As a result, each launch has an estimated cost of $2 billion (£1.7 billion) to $4 billion.
This is unlike its SpaceX competitor.”spaceship”, allowing the company to recover and reuse the first stage.
Benefits of robots
Advances in robotic exploration are illustrated by rovers on Mars, where Persist, Nasa’s newest explorer, can drive itself through rocky terrain with only limited guidance from Earth. Improvements in sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) will continue to allow robots to identify particularly interesting places on their own, thereby collecting samples to return to Earth.
Within the next decade or two, robotic exploration of the Martian surface could be almost entirely automated, with a human presence offering little advantage. Likewise, engineering projects – such as astronomers’ dream of building a large radio telescope on the far side of the Moon, free from Earth interference – no longer need human intervention. Such projects can be built with robots.
Instead of astronauts, who need a well-equipped shelter if they need it for construction purposes, robots can stay permanently in their workplace. Likewise, if it becomes economically feasible to mine lunar or asteroid soil for rare materials, it could also be done at a lower cost and safer with robots. .
Robots can also explore Jupiter, Saturn and their fascinating variety of moons at no additional cost, as journeys lasting several years do not pose more of a challenge to the robot. boots compared to the six-month journey to Mars. Some of these moons can actually contain life in the oceans below their surface.
Even if we could send humans there, it might be a bad idea since they could contaminate these worlds with bacteria from Earth.
The Apollo astronauts were heroes. They take high risks and push technology to the limit. By comparison, short trips to the Moon in the 2020s, despite the Artemis program’s $90 billion cost, would seem almost routine.
Something more ambitious, such as a Mars landing, would be required to ignite public enthusiasm on the Apollo scale. But such a mission, including provisions and rockets for the return trip, could cost Nasa trillions of dollars – questionable spending as we are dealing with the climate crisis and poverty. hungry on Earth. The high prices are the result of a “safety culture” developed by Nasa in recent years in response to public attitudes.
This reflects trauma and consequent program delays that follow Shuttle disaster in 1986 and 2003, each killing seven civilians on board. That said, the space shuttle, which had 135 launches in total, achieved a failure rate of less than 2%. It would be unrealistic to expect such a low rate for the failure of a return to Mars – the mission would eventually last two years.
Astronauts simply need more “maintenance” than robots – their journeys and surface activities require air, water, food, living space, and protection from damage. harmful radiation, especially from solar storms.
Already substantial for a trip to the Moon, the cost difference between human and robotic trips will grow much larger for any long-term vacation. A trip to Mars, hundreds of times farther than the Moon, would not only put astronauts at much greater risk, but would also make emergency assistance far less feasible. Even astronaut enthusiasts accept that nearly two decades could pass before the first crewed trip to Mars.
There will certainly be thrill seekers and adventurers willing to take much higher risks – some even signed up for a recommended one-way trip in the past.
This heralds a key difference between the Apollo era and today: the emergence of a strong private sector of space technology, which now includes human spaceflight. Private-sector companies are now competing with Nasa, so trips to Mars are high-risk, off-price, funded by billionaires and private donors, cold to situations. volunteers are willing to do. Finally, the public can cheer on these brave adventurers without paying them.
Given that human spaceflight beyond low orbit is highly likely to transition entirely to privately funded missions willing to take on high risks, it is questionable whether the project Is Nasa’s billion-dollar Artemis a good way to spend government money? The final Artemis is more likely to be a swan than the launch of a new Apollo era.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from an aggregated feed.)
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