US-led Artemis program aims to bring people to the Moon this decade . It will be the first time astronauts have been on the Moon since 1969 .
In 1969, Neil Armstrong made a historic one-trick trip to the Moon.And just three years later, the last Apollo astronauts left our celestial neighbor.Hundreds of astronauts have been launched into space since then, but most notably to the Earth-orbiting International Space Station.No one has actually approached more than a few hundred kilometres from Earth.The most significant similarities between the Apollo period and the mid-2020s are seen in a dramatic rise in computer power and robotics.In addition, superpower rivalry is no longer justified by huge expense, as in the Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union.Donald Goldsmith and I argue that these advancements weaken the case for the program in our most recent book The End of Astronauts.The Artemis mission is using Nasas' latest Space Launch System, which is the most powerful rocket ever developed in comparison to the Saturn V rockets that carried a dozen Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Each launch is therefore expected to cost between $2 billion (1.7 billion) and $4 billion, in comparison to its SpaceX competitor Starship, which allows the organization to recover and reuse the first stage of exploration.The benefits of roboticsA suite of rovers on Mars shows how Nasa's latest prospector, Perseverance, can drive itself through rocky terrain with only limited assistance from Earth.Robots will be able to locate unique locations on the Martian surface in the next one to two decades, with improvements in sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) helping them to gather samples for return to Earth.Currently, robotic exploration of the Martian surface could be virtually entirely autonomous, with human presence giving little benefit. Robots can complete such projects.Rather than astronauts who need a well-equipped place to live if they are required for engineering purposes, robots can stay permanently at their job site.Likewise, if mining lunar soil or asteroids for rare materials became economically viable, robots could also explore Jupiter, Saturn, and their fascinatingly diverse moons at lower cost, since journeys of many years pose no more challenge to a robot than the six-month journey to Mars.Some of these moons may in fact hold life in their sub-surface oceans, but sending humans there would be a bad idea because they could pollute these worlds with microbes from Earth. They took significant risks and stretched technology to the limits.Despite the $90-billion cost of the Artemis project, short trips to the Moon in the 2020s will seem almost normal.Something more ambitious, such as a Mars landing, will be required to elicit Apollo-scale public aplomb.But if we're dealing with a climate crisis and global poverty, a such mission, which includes provisions and the rocketry for a return journey, could well cost Nasa a trillion dollars in questionable money. The shuttle, which had 135 launches total, had a failure rate of less than two percent.It would be unrealistic to expect a rate of such low for a return to Mars mission that would take two whole years.Astronauts' journeys and surface operations require more attention than robots, for example, air, water, shelter, and protection against harmful radiation from solar storms.A trip to Mars, hundreds of times farther than the Moon, would not only expose astronauts to much greater risks, but also make emergency support much more difficult.Even space travelers acknowledge that almost two decades will pass before the first crewed trip to Mars.There will certainly be thrill seekers and explorers who would willingly accept much higher risks than others, such as those who have previously signed up for a one-way trip.This demonstrates a significant difference between the Apollo period and today's: the development of a strong, private space-technology industry that now embraces human spaceflight. Assuming that human spaceflight beyond low orbit is highly unlikely to be entirely transferred to privately funded missions that are able to take high risks, it is unlikely that Nasas multi-billion-dollar Artemis scheme is a good choice for the government.Artemis is ultimately more likely to be a swansong than the start of a new Apollo era, says Martin Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics.This article is licensed under a Creative Commons license.Read the original article for more information.