The Artemis program, led by NASA and its commercial partners, aims to return to the Moon, establish a lunar base, and explore the south region of the natural satellite. Astronauts on the Artemis mission will use their time to prepare for a human-led launch to Mars.

Nujoud Fahoum Merancy
Nujoud Fahoum Merancy

But there's plenty of work that still needs to be done before human explorers head to the Moon and beyond.

In a live presentation last week titled Artemis: Back to the Moon, a Tech Briefs reader had the following question for Nujoud Fahoum Merancy, Chief of the Exploration Mission Planning Office at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas:

"What are the greatest technological challenges for the Artemis project?"

Merancy names three important tasks in the edited response below.

Nujoud Fahoum Merancy: First, keeping the humans safe and having all the medical supplies they need. If an astronaut on the Space Station had a medical emergency, they could be home in 3 hours. When they go to the Moon, they're days from home — a 5-12 day range depending on where they are in the orbit or on the surface.

When you go to Mars, you're months from home.

Those timeframes also drive other things: Reliability of our spacecraft over time and reliability of the systems, so that if failures occur, the backup systems can operate until you get home again. When we talk about all the vehicles, I don't think assembly in orbit is a big technological leap for us, aggregating and building out systems in these remotes environment. What will be: Getting them all to work together in the extreme environments, the extreme south pole, the extreme cis-lunar environment, and then the reliability of getting to the Mars environment.

The rover that landed on Mars, the Perseverance rover, was about the size of a Volkswagen Bug. To land humans, the systems obviously have to be much larger than that. There's a huge entry, descent, and landing (EDL) technological leap needed to get to Mars.

There are also lots of questions on nuclear propulsion and solar electric propulsion on the scale needed for these Mars missions, because you just need so much stuff. The humans, the technology, and the EDL I'd say are three of the biggest challenges.

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