Artemis, Orion and the quest to get humans to the moon again

A virtual tour of European Service Modules headed for the moon on NASA’s human spaceflight program Artemis is not what it seems. Astronauts will fly to the moon and an orbiting base but it’s gentlemen first, please.

If you’ve ever been on a tour of a cleanroom — a sterile environment where engineers build and test satellites and other spacecraft — you will know it’s a pretty surreal experience.

You’re standing there, starring up at a rough and unfinished-looking object, seemingly wrapped in kitchen aluminum foil, with wires and solar panels sticking out at various angles and it’s tough imagining what the thing will actually do when it’s in an operational environment.

The engineers will tell you: This towering object is an instrument of precision and beauty. It will observe our planet Earth and deliver valuable data on our changing environment, monitor the oceans or track migration and military movements.

Virtually ‘live’… to be watched again later

So imagine how surreal it was to tour a spacecraft, or as DW did this Tuesday (February 2, 2021), a set of European Service Modules (ESMs), via a shaky YouTube channel. 

You’re not in the cleanroom but in front of a computer screen. And the tour is a series of pre-recorded and pre-scripted video statements with bad sound. It was white noise — static — for the first ten minutes.

But we already know that the ESMs form an integral part of Orion, a human spacecraft that will fly astronauts to the moon and an orbiting lunar base called Gateway. We also know that Orion belongs to Artemis, NASA’s human spaceflight program that aims to get humans back to the moon by 2024. 

So, we had a head start. And YouTube being YouTube, we got to watch the whole tour again later anyway.

ESA has just commissioned Airbus to build a further three ESMs

Orion’s ‘powerhouse’

Andreas Hammer, Airbus’s Head of Space Exploration, delivered opening remarks from a cleanroom in Bremen, where the event was meant to be held in person. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, that got nixed. So, there he was, all alone, dressed in a white lab coat and hair net.

Back and forth to our ‘8th continent’

German star astronaut Alexander Gerst also delivered some inspirational remarks about human travel to the moon, replete with the usual clichés. But Gerst is talented and he is a good communicator.

Gerst calls the moon “our 8th continent.” Going back to the moon will bring us the “knowledge of tomorrow,” he says, including science on living sustainably on Earth and long term on the moon. He’s also excited about bringing samples of moon and Mars rock back to Earth.

Men, women and all?

During the Q&A session, talk turned to the lucky astronauts who would get to fly first on Orion.

Walther Pelzer, Director General of the German Space Agency (DLR), spoke highly of Gerst’s chances: “Of course we’re interested in having a European astronaut with a German passport among them,” said Pelzer. “But he should be experienced. He should have shown that he’s a good leader, and Gerst showed he was an exceptional leader when he was commander of the International Space Station (ISS) and the mission didn’t go as planned.” That’s our emphasis on all those he’s.

Those comments, while true, seemed to ignore that a”she” or gender-neutral individual may possess those very same qualities, too.

Source: DW News