Learn why there is renewed interest in our planet’s natural satellite
Fifty years after humans last set foot on the Moon, the only celestial body to be visited by our species, there is renewed interest in our planet’s natural satellite. At the beginning of April, NASA named the four astronauts who will travel around the Moon on Artemis 2, the first crewed mission of the administration’s Artemis program (NASA’s ambitious initiative to return humans to the Moon and establish a sustainable human presence there).
Almost three weeks later, SpaceX’s Starship—the most powerful rocket ever built—secured important milestones during its first full test flight, despite its self-destruction shortly after take-off, as planned when it deviated from its intended path. While Starship’s first flight did not achieve its most ambitious goal of gathering enough speed to enter orbit and re-enter the atmosphere, it did attain significant triumphs like successfully lifting off, remaining airborne for four minutes, and reaching a significant distance from the launch site.
These achievements were heartily recognized by NASA. Despite the explosion, the space agency’s leaders hailed Starship’s first test flight as an essential step forward in NASA’s Moon plans. The agency counts on the successful development of SpaceX’s massive spacecraft for the Artemis 3 mission, with its plan to put astronauts back on the Moon in 2025.
Many countries and private companies are planning missions designed to return humans to the Moon. Following NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, which recently made a successful lunar orbit with an uncrewed Orion capsule (designed to safely deliver people to the lunar surface), Russia, China, India, and the European Space Agency will be launching missions in 2023 and the ensuing years.
Several commercial missions are also set to launch this year, with a focus on a new space economy. Among them is Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission, which is on the verge of becoming the first private venture to touch down on the lunar surface as early as June after Japan’s ispace startup failed to complete its planned landing in late April.
Alongside NASA science experiments to help astronauts return to the Moon, the IM-1 mission aims to deliver private payloads, including equipment for the first lunar data center—a project by 2Future portfolio company Lonestar which aims to:
Of course, there are many challenges to developing a new space economy, including technological, regulatory, and financial hurdles. But there are numerous benefits, as well. Here are the four top reasons to go back to the Moon:
The Moon is a fascinating object in our solar system, with much that remains to be learned about it. Returning there would allow for more detailed and comprehensive scientific exploration and research of its geology, surface features, and composition. This would help us understand more about the Moon itself and provide insights into the formation and evolution of the solar system.
Returning to the Moon would provide an opportunity to test and develop new technologies and capabilities crucial for future space exploration. For example, establishing a lunar base could provide valuable experience in long-term space habitation, resource utilization, and life support systems. Efforts are being made to investigate the possibility of farming on the Moon, piping oxygen from the lunar south pole to human bases, and using lunar rock as a building material for habitats.
The Moon contains valuable resources such as water, helium-3, and rare minerals that could be extracted and used for various purposes, including fuel and construction materials. This could create new economic and commercial opportunities, especially for a sustainable space industry.
The Moon exploration can provide an opportunity for international collaboration and cooperation among different nations and private companies, helping to promote diplomacy and goodwill. The Artemis program itself has had international partners from the start. This is truly encouraging since Artemis and the most recent lunar initiatives are designed to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon.
The rise of the commercial space industry has opened up fresh business opportunities and new technologies to monitor the environment and human activities, but it also brings about significant sustainability concerns. Take, for example, launch emissions and space debris. To address these concerns, the space industry must develop sustainable approaches to space exploration. They are crucial for the future of humanity in space and the conservation of Earth and extra-terrestrial environments.
New research by a team of scientists from Australia, Guatemala, India, the Netherlands, the United States, and the United Kingdom suggest that microbial biotechnologies can be used to establish sustainable processes for resource utilization in space. According to a recent work published by Nature, these technologies can also have Earth applications and support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Recycling and reusing of resources, aiming at the establishment of a circular economy in space, are crucial to meet the United Nations Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, which resolved that space exploration should minimize impacts on the space environment, as well as on Earth, taking into account the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development.