On September 12, 1962, US President John F. Kennedy set America a goal: send astronauts to the Moon before the end of the decade.
“We choose to go to the Moon (…) not because it's easy, but because it's difficult”, he declared then in the middle of the Cold War, during a founding speech delivered at Rice University, Texas.
Sixty years later, the United States is about to launch the first mission of its return program to the Moon, Artemis. But why repeat what has already been done?
Criticism has been raised in recent years, for example by Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who accused NASA of not think big enough by not aiming directly at Mars.
But for the American space agency, the Moon is a must before a trip to the red planet. Here are its main arguments:
Learn to live far away
Nasa wants to develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon, with missions lasting several weeks — against only a few days for Apollo. The goal: to better understand how to prepare for a multi-year round trip to Mars.
In deep space, space radiation is much more intense and poses a real threat to health. Low orbit, where the International Space Station (ISS) operates, is partly protected by the Earth's magnetic field, which is not the case on the Moon.
From the first mission Artemis, many experiments are planned to study the impact of this radiation on living organisms, or to evaluate the effectiveness of an anti-radiation jacket.
Moreover, while the ISS can often be resupplied, trips to the Moon (located 1,000 times further away) are much more complex. To avoid having to transport everything, and thus reduce costs, NASA wants to learn how to use the resources present on the surface. In particular water in the form of ice, whose existence has been confirmed on the South Pole of the Moon, and which could be transformed into fuel (water is made up of oxygen and hydrogen, used by rockets) .
NASA also wants to test on the Moon the technologies that will allow it to evolve on Mars.
First, new spacesuits for spacewalks. Their design has been entrusted to Axiom Space for the first mission to land on the Moon, in 2025 at the earliest.
Other needs: vehicles (pressurized or not) so that the astronauts can move, as well as homes.
Finally, for sustainable access to a source of energy, NASA is working on the development of portable nuclear fission systems.
Solving any problems that arise will be much easier on the Moon, only a few days away, than on Mars, which can only be reached in several months at least.
< strong>Step on the road to Mars
Another part of the Artemis program is the construction of a space station in orbit around the Moon, called Gateway, which will serve as a relay before the trip to Mars.
All the necessary equipment can be sent there in “several launches”, before finally being joined by the crew to set off, explains to AFP Sean Fuller, manager within the Gateway program. A bit like “going to the gas station to check that we have everything”.
Not to be overtaken by China
Independently of Mars , another reason put forward by the Americans for settling on the Moon is to do so… before the Chinese.
While in the 1960s the space race raged between the United States and Russia, today the big competitor is Beijing. China plans to send humans to the moon by 2030.
“We don’t want China to go there and say, this is our territory,” the Chinese government said in late August. television NASA boss Bill Nelson.
Expanding scientific knowledge
Finally, even though the Apollo missions brought back to Earth nearly 400 kilograms of lunar rock, new samples will further deepen the knowledge of this star and its formation.
“The samples collected during Apollo have changed our vision of the solar system”, emphasized to AFP astronaut Jessica Meir. “And that will continue with Artemis. »
Thanks to the investments and the scientific enthusiasm generated by these new missions, it also anticipates concrete benefits on Earth (technologies, engineering, etc.), as at the time of Apollo.