NASA has their sights set on the moon, again. You could argue that they never really took their eye off it, but with an increase in interest in interplanetary travel taking the world by storm, there are exciting plans in the immediate future.
Under the Artemis program, a US-Government funded spaceflight programme led by NASA, the aim is to “put the first woman and the next man on the moon” as early as 2024. The program, which is working with partners from all around the globe, including Japan, the UK, the United Arab Emirates, Canada and Australia, is working towards global lunar access, a reusable landing system and extensive lunar exploration. Further down the line, there is also an ambitious plan of placing a manned space station, named Gateway, in lunar orbit.
Discussions of reusable landing systems will be welcome to commercial partners like SpaceX, who pioneered the reusable rocket and have been running regular resupply missions to the International Space Station since 2012. Commercial partners are important within the world of spaceflight at the moment, particularly considering the recent introduction of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Although private spaceflight is not an entirely new invention, with commercial companies in America having a long history of involvement with the aerospace industry, the latest collaborations speak to a wider trend.
NASA has contracted both SpaceX and Boeing to build craft that have the capability to safely transport a crew into orbit. Upon completion of the build of these spacecraft, NASA will be able to send people into space at relatively minimal cost, while the companies who built them will retain ownership and, ultimately, control of the craft.
Commercial spaceflight isn’t restricted to the pursuit of pure science, however, strides are being made in the use of spaceflight for leisure with a handful of companies ready to compete for consumers. While any consumer looking to take a trip away from our planet in the near future is going to need rather deep pockets, they will at least have a choice of who they fly with. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are at the forefront of sub-orbital space tourism, with successful test flights having taken place and Beth Moses, the Virgin Galactic Astronaut Instructor and first woman to fly on a commercial spacecraft, describing the first day of commercial operations as feeling ‘tantalisingly close’.
Organisations like NASA and the private companies they work alongside are building towards making spaceflight accessible, competitive and eventually, affordable. While you may not be able to live out your dreams of floating in zero gravity just yet, that day continues to draw closer, and with it comes the promise of untold innovation and exploration.