Nearly a half-century since NASA sent the last man to walk on the moon, the agency begins a series of launches on Monday that aim to send the first woman.
Anne McClain, a Spokane native who spent 204 days in space in a mission to the International Space Station, is among those in the running to be that woman.
On Monday at 5:33 a.m. , the unmanned Artemis 1 is set to launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
It’s the first in a series of increasingly complex missions with the initial aim of establishing a human presence on the surface of the moon. NASA’s last mission that sent people to the moon was in December 1972.
“So on Monday, it’s Artemis 1, it’s the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that’s going to establish human presence on the surface of the moon.” McClain said in an interview Friday with the Spokesman-Review.
“I’ve personally worked on various aspects of the mission from spacesuits to some of the displays and controls on the landers. But most of us are taking part in a lot of different training for these missions; geology, helicopters, all sorts of stuff.”
The Artemis 1 mission will last about 30 days and will orbit around the moon. It will test the spacecraft system’s endurance against space-related environmental factors. Artemis 1 is the prelude to Artemis 2, which will aim to take astronauts into the moon’s orbit in 2024.
In 2025, Artemis 3 is set to launch and its goal is to put the first woman and first person of color on the moon.
This will be the first time humans have been to the moon since 1972. Anne McClain is a candidate to be the first woman to walk on the moon.
As inspiring as all of these missions are, they are in preparation for a more audacious goal: putting astronauts on Mars. But there are other objectives, too, McClain said.
“There’s so many goals of Artemis, so it depends which aspect you’re most interested in,” McClain said. “The geologists want to get some rocks from areas of the moon that we’ve never been through. Our engineers want to figure out how to use some of the ice that’s on the south pole of the moon.”
Don Davis worked in mission control for Apollo missions 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13. Apollo 11 and 12 were the first two space mission that landed people on the moon. He then worked for an organization in the 1970s that had contracts with NASA headquarters to plan what would happen next in the NASA Lunar Exploration Program, as well as the NASA Planetary Exploration Program, among other projects. Davis, who lives in Arizona, says what they planned in the 70s is “quite different” from what is planned for Artemis.
“Well, one of the interesting possibilities that has been pointed out from probes around the moon is the possibility that there’s actually frozen water at the south pole of the moon,” Davis said.
While Artemis 1 may not have any humans on board, there still are some visitors hitching a ride. They are called Cubesats – miniature satellites about the size of a large cereal box – that each have specific scientific goals. Artemis 1 is carrying 10 Cubesats.
One is scheduled to deploy from the Artemis and take pictures of a nearby asteroid while using something called a solar sail. Davis said solar sails have been conceptualized for a long time, but have never been implemented.
“It will actually unfurl a big sail, sort of like a sailing ship, but it will use light rather than wind to change the orbit of the spacecraft itself.” Davis said.
Four Cubesats are devoted to studying the moon, including one designed to land on the moon. If successful, this micro satellite would be the smallest lunar lander in history.
Three Cubesats are slated to analyze the weather and radiation in space. Two others are designed to display demonstrations of plasma thrusters, advanced optics and deep-space communications, according to an article published by Space News.
Not only is the Artemis 1 mission a scientific staple of brilliance, it is also an engineering feat, said McClain, who noted that the rocket on Artemis 1 is bigger than the Statue of Liberty and is the largest rocket built.
The thrust during liftoff will be equal to 8.8 million pounds and is supposed to travel 1.3 million miles, according to NASA’s Artemis 1 website.
While the Artemis mission may seem reminiscent of the Apollo missions, there are many differences.
“Things that we’re going to do in the Artemis mission that we didn’t do in the Apollo mission is, you know, put a Gateway Station in lunar orbit,” McClain said. “So if you think about it, that’s going to be the gateway to the moon. So it’s actually going to be a station that will stay in lunar orbit and have astronauts from which we can do missions to the surface of the moon.”
McClain noted that Artemis 1 is a different kind of collaboration.
“Something that’s really cool to me about the Artemis mission is that it’s international,” McClain said. “So you know, the space race in the ’60s, there was a lot of national pride in flying those missions. And today in the Artemis missions, we can be very proud that the United States is leading the way through the Artemis accords and the Artemis missions of an international coalition of human beings to go through this space exploration. So there’s really nothing not to be excited about.”
For McClain, being an astronaut is all she ever wanted to do. She called Spokane “a great place to launch from.”
“When I went to preschool I said, ‘I’d go to school to learn to be an astronaut.’ I told my mom that on the first day and here I am. I guess I was right,” McClain said. “So, I guess the preschools in Spokane prepare you for the astronaut program.”
For many people in Spokane, McClain is living proof that the extraordinary often comes from unexpected places.
“Spokane has a lot of opportunities,” McClain said. “And kids from there should really look at the world and just go, ‘From here, I can go do anything.’ ”
Mathew Callaghan is a member of The Spokesman-Review’s Teen Journalism Institute, a paid high school summer internship program funded by Bank of America and Innovia Foundation. As the only paid high school newspaper internship in the nation, it is for local students between the ages of 16 and 18 who work directly with senior editors and reporters in the newsroom. All stories written by these interns can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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