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NASA’s Moon To Mars Plans, Artemis Lunar Program Gets Fast Tracked In 2019

Artemis Gains Broad Support From Governments, Industry Partners

In 2019, NASA celebrated the 50th anniversary of the agency’s Apollo 11 Moon landing, the most historic moment in space exploration, while also making significant progress toward putting the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program.

Through America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, Artemis gained bipartisan support this year among members of Congress, the U.S aerospace industry, as well as with international partners, including Canada, Australia, and Japan, and member states of the European Space Agency.

“2019 will be remembered as the year the Artemis program really became a reality with real spaceflight hardware built, U.S. commercial and international partnerships standing behind it, and hardworking teams across NASA and the world coming together like never before to quickly and sustainably explore the Moon and use what we learn there to enable humanity’s next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “While the Artemis program came into sharp focus this year, NASA continued to show what leading in space exploration is all about, whether it was kicking off 2019 with New Horizons’ historic Kuiper Belt object flyby, conducting the first all-woman spacewalk outside the International Space Station, or developing the first flying robotic explorer to study Saturn’s moon Titan. And wait until you see what we do in 2020!”

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer received a successful clean audit in 2019 – the ninth consecutive clean financial audit opinion for the agency. And for the eighth year in a row, NASA retained its standing as the number one large agency in the Best Places to Work in Government rankings, published by the Partnership for Public Service.

“Throughout this year, as I have visited each of our centers, I have personally witnessed their unparalleled commitment to accomplishing our mission. The daily devotion of our employees makes them well deserving of this award,” Bridenstine said. “I am honored to lead such a dedicated team. They are what makes NASA the Best Place to Work in Government."

Moon to Mars
This year, NASA officially named the new lunar exploration program Artemis, for the goddess of the Moon and twin sister of Apollo. Under Artemis, NASA will send new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, accelerate plans to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024, and establish sustainable lunar exploration by 2028.

Science and technology progress in Artemis includes:

  • Two sets of Moon rocks, sealed since they were collected by Apollo astronauts and returned to Earth nearly 50 years ago, were opened for study.
  • NASA announced it will send a new mobile robot, VIPER, to the lunar South Pole to scout and sample ice in the region.
  • Twelve new lunar science and technology investigations were selected in February and July, 24 total, to fly on early Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) flights to the Moon.
  • The agency awarded initial surface task orders for commercial Moon deliveries.
  • New CLPS contracts were awarded to five companies to support the next generation of lunar landers that can land heavier payloads on the surface of the Moon. A total of 14 companies now are eligible to bid on these deliveries.
  • NASA received a record-breaking 10,932,295 names to travel to Mars on the agency’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission.
  • Engineers attached the Mars Helicopter to the Mars 2020 rover. After the rover lands at the Jezero Crater, the helicopter will be deployed to conduct test flights.
  • The international mission team for NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander continues to assess the lander’s heat probe, while the lander's seismometer collects data on quakes.
  • NASA selected 14 Tipping Point and 19 Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity proposals from U.S. companies that focus on technologies and capabilities needed for a sustainable presence on the Moon by 2028.
  • The agency partnered with Advanced Space to develop and build a pathfinder CubeSat destined for the same lunar orbit planned for NASA’s lunar Gateway.
  • The Sample Analysis at Mars chemistry lab on NASA’s Curiosity rover measured seasonal methane and oxygen spikes in Mar’s atmosphere.
  • Technology sensors and an in-situ resource utilization experiment were installed on the Mars 2020 entry vehicle and rover.

NASA continues to advance development of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, which will send astronauts to deep space.

NASA demonstrated that Orion’s launch abort system can pull astronauts to safety if an emergency occurs during launch, and assembled the spacecraft for the first Artemis mission, Artemis I. It was delivered to Ohio for final testing for the extreme environment of space before it’s returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch preparation.

On the SLS rocket for the first Artemis mission, engineers completed the segments for the boosters and assembled the core stage. The core stage next will ship to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, for a Green Run test of the integrated propulsion system before joining Orion at Kennedy for stacking. Teams at Kennedy conducted a series of water flow tests of the sound suppression system at the launch pad and tested the flow of cryogenic fluids through the pad’s infrastructure – the systems that will send liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to the rocket at the time of launch.

The launch team at Kennedy held its first formal training simulation for Artemis  I, and flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston simulated part of Orion’s uncrewed flight to the Moon.

Work also began on hardware for Artemis II, the first SLS/Orion test flight with astronauts aboard. NASA and Northrop Grumman technicians applied insulation to the final booster motor segment of SLS and completed casting of all 10 booster motor segments. The agency also issued a request for proposals from U.S. small satellite developers to fly their missions as secondary payloads on Artemis II.

Development of the key pieces of NASA’s lunar architecture is underway:

  • NASA awarded a contract for the first element of the Gateway, which will provide power, propulsion, and communications to the lunar outpost. The new Gateway Program is based out of Johnson.
  • Negotiations are underway for the Gateway’s habitation and logistics outpost (HALO) module, and awards are expected in the future for logistics supply services.
  • NASA announced astronaut spacesuit designs for the Artemis III mission, which will include the return of astronauts to the Moon’s surface. The agency is asking industry for input on production for Artemis IV missions and beyond.
  • The agency also announced its Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will manage its new Human Landing System Program and asked American companies to design, develop, and demonstrate a human lander.
  • NASA’s InSight lander captured audio of the first likely quake on Mars on April 6.

The agency also bid farewell to a veteran Martian science rover on Feb. 13 and captured audio of the first likely quake on Mars. The Mars Opportunity Rover mission stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel less than 3,300 feet (1,000 meters), Opportunity far surpassed all expectations, exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, traveling more than 28 miles (45 kilometers), and returning more than 217,000 images.

It was a great year for astrobiology and the agency’s search for life in the universe:

Scientists synthesized a molecular DNA-like system in NASA-funded research – a feat that suggests there could be an alternative to DNA-based life as we know it.   

NASA selected Dragonfly, a rotocraft-lander that will survey locations on Saturn’s moon Titan for prebiotic chemical processes common on Titan and Earth.

Other highlights this year include:

  • On New Year’s Day 2019, NASA’s New Horizons mission flew by the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft and became the first to directly explore an object that holds remnants from the birth of our solar system.
  • NASA launched the Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft and announced the first results from the agency’s Parker Solar Probe mission.
  • Significant progress was made on the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope. The two halves of Webb were assembled into one observatory and the sunshield passed a critical test.
  • After a navigation maneuver to keep NASA’s Juno mission out of an eclipse that could have frozen the solar powered spacecraft, it discovered a new cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole. The cyclone is the size of Texas, small by Jupiter standards.
  • NASA's next Mars rover, Mars 2020, passed its first driving test as it rolled forward and backward and pirouetted in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Dec. 17. The next time the rover drives, it will be rolling over Martian soil.
  • The Europa Clipper mission’s next phase was confirmed with a decision in August to allow the mission to progress to completion of final design, followed by the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload.  
  • NASA’s Chandra, Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NUSTAR), Fermi, Swift, and Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) telescopes contributed to the first direct imaging of a black hole. Chandra, which celebrated its 20th anniversary, separately spotted three black holes on a collision course.  
  • The agency’s Hubble Space Telescope observed the first confirmed interstellar comet and found water vapor on a habitable-zone exoplanet for the first time.  
  • The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) completed its first year of science, capturing a panorama of the southern sky and finding 29 confirmed planets and more than 1,000 planet candidates. TESS also captured a rare astrophysical event – a black hole tearing apart a star.
  • The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected the universe’s first type of molecule, helium hydride.
  • The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission was selected to help us understand how our universe evolved and to search our galaxy for the ingredients for life.
  • NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) was cleared for the next development phase: finalizing the spacecraft’s design.
  • The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security - Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-Rex) made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid’s surface, and the mission team announced the site on the asteroid Bennu where the mission will collect samples that will be returned to Earth in 2023.

(Images provided with NASA news release and from file)



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