The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

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STEM in the World: NASA Is Going Back to the Moon!


Fifty-five years ago, NASA’s Apollo missions successfully landed the first people on the Moon. For the next three years, NASA’s astronauts made frequent trips to and from the Moon. 

Then, in 1972, NASA’s lunar visits stopped completely. With the space race against the USSR considered over, these trips, now with no other political purpose, were deemed too costly to continue. Since then, humans have yet to step foot on the Moon’s surface. Yet, the dream of striding along the lunar surface is far from over. NASA has already begun its mission to return to the moon with similar motivations to Apollo.

NASA’s Artemis campaign aims to establish a long-term presence on the Moon, including a lunar space station similar to the International Space Station (ISS) that orbits Earth, and a lunar railroad. The Artemis missions are already well underway, with the uncrewed Artemis I traveling 1.4 million miles around the Moon before splashing down on Earth on December 11, 2022. This first mission proved that the Orion spacecraft could successfully launch via NASA’s $23 billion Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Moon and back. According to NASA, each launch from Earth will cost $4.1 billion. 

If everything goes according to plan, Artemis II will launch no earlier than September 2025, orbiting the Moon with a crewed capsule. This is in preparation for the planned launch of Artemis III no earlier than September 2026, which will bring humans back to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo missions.

The mission still faces several risks, though, with William Russel, director of contracting and national security acquisitions at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), said at the recent House Science Committee’s space subcommittee meeting that Artemis must overcome multiple challenges, which include “the Artemis schedule, a lack of transparency into the Artemis mission, and program costs.” 

However, Rep. Frank Lucas, who chairs the Science, Space and Technology Committee, said at the subcommittee meeting that, “I remind my colleagues that we are not the only country interested in sending humans to the moon… The Chinese Communist Party is actively soliciting international partners for a lunar mission, a lunar research station, and has stated its ambition to have… human astronauts on the surface by 2030.” Once again, international competition seems to be the driving force in a space mission. 

Ben Farrar, computer science and engineering teacher at Poly Prep, remarked on the similar reasoning behind the Apollo and Artemis missions. Farrar said how, in the 1960s, the purpose of the Apollo mission was campaigned as space exploration and prosperity for the entire world, but in reality, “it was a proxy for military tech, and demonstrating that our military technology was superior to that of the USSR.” He continued, “My belief as to why we are doing this now, 50 years later, randomly, is China has said that they’re going to the moon. We have to demonstrate that our military technology is superior to that of China.” 

Farrar believes that Chief of Space Operations U.S. Space Force General Chance Saltzman’s recent address at the 2024 Space Symposium reinforces this theory, with Saltzman saying, “The Space Force must harness the benefits of technological innovation and emerging capabilities if we are going to be able to outcompete our competitors – or the Space Force will lose… the Joint Force will lose… and the U.S. will lose!” The Artemis campaign seems to have strong geopolitical motives behind it, but what happens after this new-age space race is finished?

A critical difference between Apollo and Artemis is that Apollo was never intended to establish any permanent presence on the Moon. According to Farrar, where Artemis differs is that the lunar space station, or lunar gateway is intended to be a permanent structure akin to the ISS. “It remains to be seen whether or not the lunar gateway can make itself important in that same way [as the ISS]. If demand exists for a structure that orbits the moon, then I can see [the lunar gateway] either being upgraded or replaced,” said Farrar. 

As for a long-term motivation for a lunar presence, Farrar believes that mining resources from the Moon that are rare on Earth will be a primary economic driver for the United States and even private companies. “I would expect not only SpaceX, but also some more freelancers that maybe don’t even exist yet, to start up and [look for resources on the moon… every billionaire seems to want to go to space. It holds a lot of wonder and excitement for people.”

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About the Contributor
TJ Iannelli
TJ Iannelli, Managing Editor
TJ Iannelli is one of the Managing Editors for the Polygon. A member of the Polygon for three years now, TJ has been a staff writer and Opinions Editor in the past. His favorite articles to write vary, but mainly focus on major school changes or STEM. Outside of the Polygon, TJ is a two sport athlete and a member of Green Key. Some of his hobbies include surfing, snowboarding, and F1.

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