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Science will soon take center stage on the International Space Station thanks to astronaut Jessica Watkins

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Watkins’ first spaceflight made her the first black woman to fly an extended mission in space by accident. But it also shows how NASA approaches human spaceflight as the agency works on a manned return to the Moon through its Artemis program. Watkins, a geologist with a Ph.D., is part of the NASA Artemis team of astronauts for a future moon landing. Agency staff stressed that science would be at the forefront of the Artemis program.

NASA scientists know very well that they are a kind of spearhead, as we try to do this research and understand our Earth, our Moon, the planets and the solar system. [e] “The universe we live in,” he said NASA’s chief global explorer, Jacob Bleacher, will be broadcast live at this year’s Planetary and Lunar Science Conference on Thursday, March 10.. These comments came just a week before NASA’s unmanned Artemis 1 mission heads to the launch pad on March 17. That mission, which NASA aims to launch no later than May, It will send the agency’s megarazzo space launch system (SLS) and an Orion (unmanned) capsule on a flight over the moon and back.

If the Artemis 1 mission goes according to plan, NASA hopes to launch Artemis 2 in 2024 for a flight around the moon, followed by Artemis 3 which will land on the moon no later than 2025 (given recent problems identified by NASA’s inspector general). When astronauts reach the moon on the moon, Bleacher noted, they will have a very different focus than the agency’s astronauts who last landed on the moon in 1972.

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“This is not just going back to the moon. It is about exploring a new field that we have not visited before, and it will require new and innovative approaches.” For example, astronauts will land near the south pole of the moon and will likely eventually be tasked with trying to create a livable environment and using local resources such as ice to support human operations and life.

International Space Station. Credits: ESA

Crew training for Artemis astronauts focused so much on the scientific research that was undoubtedly at the center of these missions. From the beginning. Bleacher stressed that this training also consists of enabling the astronauts to carefully choose the materials to be examined and returned to Earth.

Analog or simulation training activities, for example, are underway at various locations across the United States and in icy places like Iceland, so astronauts learn how to collect samples in icy terrain. “One of the reasons we’re going to Antarctica with Artemis is because we think there’s volatiles we can get into,” Bleacher explained. Water is an example of a volatile substance.

While these missions are very different, NASA notes that the lessons of the Apollo moon missions are still useful in shaping the Artemis program, as they can be based on the experience of the thousands of individuals who made moon landings possible in the 1960s. and 1970, as well as diagrams and technical information for those years.

Other programs will also support Artemis’ planning, added Sarah Noble, a program scientist in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. This includes the Constellation program under George W. Bush, which was later canceled, which was intended to send humans to both the Moon and Mars. “We are not starting from scratch,” Noble said at the same conference. Noble added that the lunar scientific community has also changed over the years, taking advantage of the wealth of new information provided by lunar orbit (for example through NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter).

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