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The Artemis program: NASA’s mission to return to the moon

The Artemis program: NASA’s mission to return to the moon

NASA will be announcing the astronauts for the Artemis II mission on April 3, 2023.

The Artemis program returns humans to the moon

The Apollo program, which first took humans to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has long awaited a successor. Enter Artemis, the NASA program that will return humans to the moon. Artemis will be a multi-stage program using new technology, including the powerful SLS rocket. Artemis I, an uncrewed test mission that circled the moon, successfully completed its mission on December 11, 2023. The next stage of the program, Artemis II, will take a crewed mission around the moon no earlier than November 2024.

The Artemis program is the name for NASA’s missions to return humans to the moon.

Artemis I

Artemis I launched to the moon from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:47 a.m. EST on November 16, 2022. The uncrewed flight covered a total of 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) on its journey. The Orion capsule, the compartment that will hold the future crew, spent more time in space than any human spacecraft has without docking to a space station. It also set a new record for the greatest distance from Earth – for any craft built for human space travel – of 268,563 miles (432,210 km). The Orion spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11, 2022.

Artemis program: Map showing Artemis 1's path around the moon and what it will be doing at different points along its journey.
View larger. | A closer look at the major points in Artemis 1’s path around the moon and back. Image via NASA.

Artemis II, III, IV and beyond

Artemis II will be the first crewed flight for the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. This mission will follow in the footsteps on Artemis I, taking astronauts on a journey around the moon without landing. The four crew members should launch toward the moon sometime in November 2024. NASA will announce the astronauts of the Artemis II mission on April 3, 2023.

Artemis III will be the mission that finally lands on the moon. The crew of four will include the first woman and the first person of color to go to the moon. A Human Landing System (HLS) – still in development – will launch prior to Artemis III and will await the Orion spacecraft at the moon. Then, two astronauts will descend to the moon on the HLS and spend approximately six days on the surface. This mission will launch no earlier than December 2025.

Artemis IV and Artemis V are further missions that plan to land on the moon, with possible launch dates of September 2028 and September 2029, respectively.

The vision of the Artemis program

Ultimately, the Artemis program aims to send the first humans back to the moon by the middle of this decade. When they go, they’ll be aiming for the moon’s south pole, a place that scientists have discovered in recent decades has large amounts of water ice. Water contains oxygen, so processing it will make it possible for future astronauts to stay longer.

Someday, visionaries still hope, we will have a permanent presence on the moon. And we will go to Mars.

Such dreams are an integral part of humanity’s natural wanderlust in the 21st century. And so future historians might look back at our time – and at the Artemis missions – as the moment humanity took a true giant leap to space, maybe this time for good.

Bottom line: The Artemis program aims to return humans to the moon. Artemis I already successfully tested new technology such as the SLS rocket. The crewed Artemis II mission could launch as soon as November 2024.

Read more: New NASA moon suit makes its debut


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