Jul 2, 2019

Comparing the Artemis and Apollo missions to the Moon

The Saturn V launch that sent Apollo 11 to the moon in 1969. Photo: NASA

While the broader narratives surrounding Artemis and Apollo are similar, the missions themselves — and the specific motivations behind them — are very different.

The big picture: The Apollo missions were motivated by a desire to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon by landing on the lunar surface first.

  • NASA hopes Artemis will bring the agency back to the Moon to stay; however, it's not clear whether Congress will allocate the $20 billion–$30 billion needed to make it happen by 2024.
  • "The program we have executed to return to exploration is in no way comparable to Apollo in intensity or commitment," John Logsdon, the founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University, told Axios.

Flashback: Apollo's mission profile hinged on the huge Saturn V rocket's power, which created 7.6 million pounds of thrust upon liftoff, making it the most powerful rocket flown to date.

  • Each Saturn V would launch a command module and service module along with the lunar lander toward the Moon. Once in lunar orbit, the lunar module would descend to the Moon.
  • After the mission on the surface was finished, the crew would fly back up to the command module and return to Earth.

Where it stands: Artemis will make use of the huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that, once it's flying, will produce 15% more thrust than the Saturn V at liftoff.

  • The SLS is expected to launch the Orion crew capsule and service module that will dock to a space station orbiting the Moon known as the Gateway and act as a jump-off point for landers heading down to the lunar surface.

But, but, but: Even though the Saturn V was built more than 50 years ago and the basic components of a chemical rocket haven’t changed all that much in the intervening decades, the SLS is still years behind schedule.

  • According to Logsdon, that schedule difficulty may have been due, at least in part, to NASA's changing goalposts. The SLS hasn't had a specific, mission-focused deadline for much of its development, eliminating the sense of urgency the agency had during Apollo.

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