Last year NASA established a ambitious goal: Send astronauts to walk on the moon in 2024. Now, the agency is busy planning what astronauts will do during those excursions.
NASA has not landed humans on another world in nearly 50 years, not since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission to the moon. But that is the agency’s goal for your Artemis Program. So the agency combines that Apollo experience with what it learned from decades of living and working on the International Space Station, and spraying some challenges it wants to tackle in preparation for the next big exploration milestone, a human mission to Mars.
Science is not the limiting factor, of course: scientists have been eager to return to the surface of the moon by ages. But discussions around the Artemis program have tended to focus on the challenges that must be addressed before the first manned landing in 2024 or on the agency’s long-term vision for the moon, rather than the practical details of seizing early opportunities. of the moonwalk.
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In a series of presentations made last month, NASA staff outlined some of the details of the agency’s vision for a new era of moonwalking. In particular, the representatives offered an idea of how extravehicular activities, or EVA, during the first mission landedArtemis 3 in 2024 could be developed.
First, the basics: During the mission, two astronauts will spend up to approximately 6.5 days on the lunar surface, said Lindsay Aitchison, a space suit engineer at NASA, during the Virtual Lunar Surface Science Workshop held on May 28.
That’s almost double the length of the astronaut’s longest stay during the Apollo missions. During that stay, the astronauts will perform approximately four extravehicular activities, each of which could last about six hours, Aitchison said, matching the length of typical excursions outside the International Space Station.
In the first manned landing mission, astronauts will have to use their own two feet to move across the lunar surface. NASA does not expect to have a large rover on the surface and ready to aid exploration until the second manned landing as soon as possible. “We will limit ourselves to the crew only and how far they can walk with their two feet,” said Aitchison. “It is still quite a long distance, but it is somewhat limited until we get to the additional phases of exploration.”
Given that restriction, Aitchison said, NASA has calculated that during each EVA, the crew should be able to cover about 10 miles (16 kilometers) round trip. (For comparison, during your lunar excursion to a single landmark in Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin covered approximately 3,300 feet, or 1 km, in 2.5 hours.)
Astronaut explorations will also be limited in terms of where their suits can keep them safe. All the Apollo missions landed in the equatorial region of the moon, but the Artemis missions will go to a whole new place, the south pole region, where extremely cold temperatures can present problems for space suits.
That is a calculated decision by NASA. The south pole is tempting because scientists have confirmed that water ice lurks frozen below the moon’s surface in deep southern craters that never see direct sunlight. Aspiring explorers hope that such ice could be removed and processed in drinking water or rocket fuel, facilitating more ambitious missions.
But the same conditions that would foster that ice would make direct exploration difficult for astronauts. Space suits on the first landed mission will not be able to withstand such cold temperatures, confirmed Jake Bleacher, a geologist and chief exploration scientist at NASA, during the same meeting. Even on later missions, astronauts may need to stay in warmer, sunlit areas and leave direct work in permanently shaded regions for robotic assistants.
Artemis’s first space suit will be a model called Extravehicular examination mobility unit, or xEMU, which is based on the EMU suits astronauts currently wear during spacewalks on the International Space Station and incorporates some moon-specific lessons from the Apollo program.
“This is where we are going to test the technologies, use the lessons learned from EMU and, obviously, Apollo, to get to 2024,” said Natalie Mary, EVA systems engineer at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, during A Committee for the Space Research meeting was held virtually on May 20 focusing on human missions to Mars. “We have some things that we are delaying [on] for sharp mole [exploration]”
In particular, throughout the xEMU design process, space suit engineers have focused on fit and mobility to facilitate exploration. Unlike Apollo and space station suits, xEMU suits emphasize lower body movement, with the goal of ensuring that astronauts can walk the surface with relative ease.
However, the xEMU will be a evolving technology, and NASA already plans to make certain changes to support longer lunar stays for subsequent Artemis missions, including reinforcing the suit’s protection from vicious moon dust. Subsequent suits could also be scheduled to verify their condition, rather than requiring precious astronaut time for a detailed inspection to ensure safety.
One of the components of the xEMU suits that NASA is analyzing most carefully is the glovesTamra George, a tool specialist at the Johnson Space Center, said during the Lunar Surface Science Virtual Workshop.
“One of the most important things that limits our EVA instrument and tool designs is the gloved hand,” said George.
Suit gloves must navigate a tricky balance, George said, as they must be flexible to facilitate astronaut activities, but also sturdy enough to keep astronauts isolated from the harsh lunar environment. And between most of the gloves and the pressure of the suit, working in space can be difficult and exhausting.
And of course the lack of transportation On the lunar surface it affects the types of instruments that astronauts can take to lunar walks, as it limits the ground that they can cover. Since astronauts on the Artemis 3 mission will need to carry their own toolkits, heavy or bulky equipment will not be an option until later missions.
Those limitations, plus the moonwalk experience during the Apollo era, have prompted NASA to establish an initial set of eight basic scientific instruments for astronauts to take on these excursions, said Adam Naids, a hardware development engineer at the Center. Johnson Space, at the same meeting. . Those tools include geology staples like a hammer, rake, shovel and tongs.
Of course, the Artemis 3 mission is still more than four years away, so NASA is still at the beginning of the planning process for every aspect of its spacewalks.
“The idea here was just to start developing some of the tools that had a high probability of flying based on what was done at Apollo,” said Naids. “This is not meant to be a complete list. There will be dozens and dozens of other tools and equipment to be made, but that helped us get started.”
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