The ongoing Artemis I flight — the initial component to NASA's three-tiered mission of establishing a human presence on and around the moon — could lead to breakthrough experiences in the coming years, according to one NASA official.
In an interview with BBC, Howard Hu, program manager for the Orion spacecraft onboard Artemis I, reportedly predicted that humans will be living on the moon before 2030.
"Certainly in this decade, we're going to have people living [on the moon]," said Hu. "The durations, you know, depending on how long we'll be on the surface. They'll be living, they'll have habitats and they'll have rovers on the ground. ... So, not only are we able to work in delivering people to the moon, getting people down to the surface of the moon, they still have to have infrastructure."
Hu added: "It's more than living — it's really about science."
Fifty-three years have passed since astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to step foot on the moon; but over the last few decades, there hasn't been much substantive talk about other humans living and co-existing with others on the moon surface.
"We're going to be sending people down to the surface, and they're going to be living on that surface and doing science," said Hu.
The unmanned Artemis flight has the Orion spacecraft traveling to the moon; and according to CBS News, Orion plans to hover roughly 62 miles above surface — the estimated distance before the moon's gravity pulls the spacecraft into its orbit.
The objective: NASA scientists and analysts would collect that data for future moon flights with humans onboard — beginning with the laser-driven Artemis II mission slated for next year.
For the Artemis III mission, CBS News reports the crew would get to touch the moon's surface — which hasn't been accomplished by another person since 1972.
"It's really going to be very important for us to learn a little bit beyond our Earth's orbit and then do a big step when we go to Mars," Hu told the BBC.
"And the Artemis missions enable us to have a sustainable platform and transportation system that allows us to learn how to operate in that deep space environment," added Hu.
The Mars reference involves another function of the current Artemis voyage: Observing/measuring whether there's water at the moon's south pole, which the NASA official reasoned could be converted into fuel for spacecrafts doing even more exploration.
On Monday, Orion reportedly got within 80 miles above the moon's surface, while traveling more than 5,100 miles per hour, according to NASA.
"These are the steppingstones that hopefully will allow this future capability," Hu told the BBC. "... and give those opportunities an option for our kids and our grandkids and their kids."
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