NASA’s Artemis mission is spending $93bn of taxpayer money on a return to the moon – but it has a good case | Science & Tech News

Fifty years after the last Apollo astronaut left footprints on the moon, NASA is on its way back.

The Orion spacecraft is now on its 1.3-million-mile test flight that will take it into lunar orbit.

In two years’ time, there will be a crewed mission around the moon, and soon after humans will land on the surface.

‘A place in history’ – catch up on the Artemis 1 launch as it happened

The Artemis programme will saddle the American taxpayer with a bill of $93bn (£78bn) so there is an obvious question about the value for money, particularly in a cost of living crisis.

NASA makes a good case for the cash.

First off, there is the science. The moon is a time capsule, undisturbed by the geological processes that have shaped Earth. It holds clues not only to its own origin, but the history of the solar system.

Artemis will also allow explorers to test the kit they need to survive on another world.

In their lunar base camp they need to grow their own food, find a source of water, use it to make oxygen and fuel – and then it’s on to Mars.

But there is the geopolitics too.

China has an ambition to put its own taikonauts on the surface and America wants to be there first, just as it did in the space race with the Soviet Union.

NASA's next-generation moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion crew capsule, lifts off from launch complex 39-B on the unmanned Artemis 1 mission to the moon, seen from Sebastian, Florida, U.S. November 16, 2022. REUTERS/Joe Rimkus Jr.
A stunning image shows NASA’s moon rocket lifting off from Kennedy Space Center

There is a more philosophical reason for going beyond the relative safety of Earth’s orbit.

Photos from the Apollo missions showed the Earth as a small blue marble against a vast black curtain of space. They gave us a sense of just how fragile our planet is and helped to give birth to the environmental movement.

Robotic space missions are cheaper and safer, but humans are still more capable.

And there is something to be said for exploring new frontiers through human eyes.

Artemis will inspire a new generation.