Space: Toulouse, spearhead of the global race to reclaim the Moon

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NASA announced in early November that the Artemis mission to return to the Moon would be operational in 2025 at the earliest. But the ambition of the United States to send a man back to the moon remains intact. And fifty years after the last Apollo mission, the Moon has never whetted so many appetites …

There are of course all these space missions left on Mars to find out if a form of life existed on the red planet and if this one will be able, one day, to allow men to establish colonies there. And Toulouse has largely played its part since the launch of the rover Curiosity.

There is of course this whole New Space economy which is taking shape, driven by digital billionaires – Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson – who spend lavishly to imagine the space tourism of tomorrow or create constellations of satellites. to bring the internet everywhere in the world at a time when 37% of humanity does not yet have access to it.

There are all these great space missions carried by the historical actors of space – United States, Russia, Europe – and by the new space powers – China, India – which send probes to the borders of our solar system.

There is still this fierce desire to understand the universe, from the Pic du Midi observatory and, in a few weeks, from the James Webb telescope which will succeed Hubble with the promise of incredible discoveries.

Half a century after Apollo 17

There are also the beginnings of geopolitical spatial conflicts between espionage or even destruction of satellites like Star Wars.

Finally, there are these projects already imagined by science fiction literature or cinema and which materialize like the one which will consist in deflecting an asteroid.

Apollo 17 mission: Schmitt rejoins the rover by performing a jump; he holds in his hand the tool allowing him to collect samples without getting off the rover.
NASA

But it all doesn’t seem like a thing compared to Man’s urge to return to the Moon. As if in each of us a Tintin was sleeping ready to wake up to set again this “Moon objective” which has long made humanity dream and then fascinated it when on July 21, 1969, Neil Armstong becomes the first man to tread the lunar soil. “It’s a small step for [un] man, [mais] a giant leap for Humanity ”.

Today, 49 years after the last mission of the Apollo program – Apollo 17 which ended on December 19, 1972 – the return to the moon is once again in people’s minds. No sooner had Thomas Pesquet returned to Earth after his six-month mission in the International Space Station (ISS) when he signaled his desire to set course for our nearest satellite. “Setting foot on the Moon, of course, is everyone’s dream. Even if we don’t go face-to-face, anyway, play a role in this exploration, in my opinion it will be a bit of a thrilling experience for the years to come, ”confided the astronaut. At 43, Thomas Pesquet, the first French commander of the ISS, fulfills all the criteria and has a good chance of being the European astronaut who will embark on the Artemis program launched by NASA.

NASA is behind schedule

An eminently complex program which has already fallen behind schedule: from 2024 to 2025 “at the earliest”, NASA announced on November 9. In question, the litigation between Nasa and Blue Origin, the company of Jeff Bezos, which challenged a contract of the Nasa with Space X for the construction of the moon lander. “We’ve wasted nearly seven months in litigation, and that probably pushed back the first human landing until 2025 at the earliest,” NASA boss Bill Nelson said at a press conference. But “there are other reasons,” he added. The 2024 date set by the Trump administration was not “technically feasible”, he asserted. He also criticized the lack of funds allocated by Congress in recent years for the development of the moon lander. The Artemis 1 mission, which will not include an astronaut on board, is however still scheduled for February 2022.

La mission Artemis

La mission Artemis

All Artemis missions will use NASA’s new giant rocket, called SLS, which will propel the Orion capsule to the moon. It is assembled at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, awaiting take-off. The cost of developing this capsule, in which the astronauts will be located, has been increased from 6.7 billion to 9.3 billion until Artemis 2. The astronauts will then have to be transferred aboard a moon landing vessel in order to land on the Moon and leave. Named Starship, the moon lander is currently under construction by Space X in Texas.

The American mission covers strong technical, scientific and geopolitical issues. In March 2019, Donald Trump decided to return American astronauts to the Moon in 2024, instead of 2028. For the president of the Make America Great Again, regaining American leadership in space, particularly in the face of Chinese ambitions, was a priority. “We don’t want China, Russia and other countries to dominate us, we have always dominated. My administration will take up the torch as the first country in space exploration “, hammered Trump in 2018. A year later his vice-president Mike Pence criticized the slowness of NASA and assured him:” The first woman and the next man on the moon will be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil ”.

The SLS launcher for the future Artemis mission

The SLS launcher for the future Artemis mission
NASA

The United States and Europe in the face of China’s ambitions

This is because unlike the Apollo program, the United States is no longer alone in dreaming of the Moon, the first step towards Mars, and a global race has begun. Despite difficulties in balancing its budget and forging partnerships with India and Europe, the Russian agency Roscosmos, which has not approached the moon since 1976, is preparing four lunar missions. But the launch of its Luna-25 probe was postponed last August to May 2022 due to technical issues.

The Moon Village lunar station project

The Moon Village lunar station project

China, which plans to launch manned missions to the Moon by 2025-2030, has embarked on a robotic program on the surface of the Moon, more particularly on the hidden surface, never explored. Ella also brought many samples of lunar rocks back to Earth. Japan and India are also in the game.

Finally, the European space agency theorized with the Chinese “Moon village”: a first colony of six to ten people (scientists, engineers, technicians) could settle on the Moon by 2030. Ultimately, a thousand of men could set foot on lunar soil in 2050.

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