The Artemis Mission is one of NASA’s most ambitious endeavors to date. The Apollo missions of the late sixties to early seventies were a time of awe and wonder. The technology utilized during those times was unparalleled, and something to marvel at from a variety of perspectives. From the handful of missions that were flown during the Apollo era, the level of national pride and scientific achievement of the time, is something that we all ought to take our time and appreciate. With all major projects it is possible to gain some critical lessons once the endeavors themselves have actually come to a close.
With the dawning of a new space era, it is now possible to gain some lessons from the previous Apollo missions, and apply them to the present day. With the limitations of Apollo somewhat overcome in the modern day, how can we then take the time to actually allow ourselves to expand our capabilities to explore the solar system once again. Every mission has a lesson, and Apollo taught us initially how to develop the technology that will enable us to actually successfully fly far distances to the solar system and back. With new computing capabilities, space suits, rovers, a Moon orbiting station, it is a great time to be involved in space exploration. There are a few insights into the advancement of the Apollo era, into the age of Artemis. Key lessons to learn from Mission Apollo that will benefit Mission Artemis are:
Lesson 1: Invent, But Don’t Reinvent The Wheel
With a new mission, there’s always the feeling that the entire previous missions didn’t have much value to add to the present day. People have a way of wanting to leave their mark on things, and if the previous projects worked, how then can we make them better? That is the question. Going to the moon in the Apollo era required NASA engineers to solve many problems, some that cropped up after the initial set of problems were solved. There were various innovations that were built to sustain the mission inclusive of the space suits that the astronauts wore, and the lunar rover that they navigated the Moon’s surface with, as well as computing power that enabled data to be processed. The mission required innovation and it was created for the purpose.
Current missions have adapted these new technologies and have identified ways to improve on them. These include ways to optimize the space suits, and improvement in the technical capability of the instruments on board the spacecraft. Touch screens in new space vehicles are now becoming a standard. These are wonderful achievements, and with the new developments that are taking place, the current designers would do well to optimize the units that were generated previously. With estimated current budgets for today’s spacecraft actually matching the budgets for space vehicles in the past, are we really moving forward? With a little more conscious design, it will be possible for new vehicles to be built and operated at a fraction of the cost of previous spacecraft.
Lesson 2: Outsource the development of Spacecraft
The efforts of the Apollo Mission were government directed. The efforts then were predominantly political, with the intention of seeing which nation would be the first one to reach space first. With the current efforts, the political competition is actually now reduced, and the efforts are more collaborative in nature. With the current era of space development being impacted by economic forces, the business model of NASA has changed. Via outsourcing various initiatives, it is now a competition that is centered on who can be the most innovative. The whole point of our evolution is remove the political dominance and focus on the goal that Space Innovation is supposed to be a fun activity. With the current era of space entrepreneurs, the freedom to innovate is one that is generating a collaborative atmosphere.
With new advances made by one company, the intellectual property is actually shared with the competition, and in some instances such as with the creation of larger vehicles, the technologies are a fusion of technologies of various companies. One company’s technology might be incorporated into the rocket’s engines, while another company’s technology is used to control and navigate the vehicle. At the end of the day, the collaborative efforts always win because of the synergy between the two or three entities.
Lesson 3: Healthy competition makes us all better
These days, the chance of physical wars is low, but the odds of Twitter wars is much higher than anticipated. It is not uncommon for one CEO of a major company in the aerospace industry to tweet a challenge to another. One such example is the recent case of SpaceX’s Elon Musk tweeking to ULA’s Tory Bruno that the company needs to improve their reusability. In an era where a space vehicle costs tens of millions of dollars, you really want to be in a position where you’re recapturing the dollars invested into such machinery. The tweet was well warranted, because SpaceX as an organization has the ability to actually be able to reuse their main engines up to six times before major refurbishment is needed.
The factors that led to the closure of the Shuttle Program was cost related, and from an operational perspective it is very important to factor in the cost of an activity. By keeping the launch and vehicle costs at a low, it will be possible for aerospace organizations to thrive for many decades to come. Not only will they be able to thrive at the baseline commercial level, but they can bring in the business that will enable them to be able to expand to larger projects or even expand to commercial civilian projects.
Factoring all of these into the current Artemis mission, it will be important that larger scale missions embody the traits of current smaller scale missions. Budget management, appropriate innovation, and reusability will be key to ensuring that future missions are sustainable.