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Canada takes center stage in NASA’s upcoming moon missions

The goal of the Artemis program is to send humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars.

Canada has benefitted from strong momentum into the worldwide space robotics and telecommunications industry. As a G7 leader Canada was invited by NASA to join the Artemis program which will put Canadian astronaut boots on the moon with the United States.

The Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, will blast off on August 29 as long as everything goes according to plan. The first outing is a test with no crew aboard, but future missions will send astronauts back to the lunar surface for the first time in over 50 years. Unbeknownst to much of the country our contributions to this mission are significant and ongoing.

David Saint-Jacques OQ FRCGS is a Canadian astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). He is also an astrophysicist, engineer, and a physician.

Canada has reached some big space milestones of late since Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government announced a 2+ billion dollar investment in space exploration and other space related activity. Canada joined the United States on its aggressive endeavours to put humans back on the moon and eventually boots on Mars. Canada became the first country to commit to the NASA led Artemis program and will contribute a robotic arm to help astronauts succeed. NASA announced two unnamed Canadian astronauts will be part of the upcoming moon missions, a benefit for countries who invest internationally in advancing human space exploration.

During this flight, the Orion spacecraft will launch from Florida on the SLS and venture thousands of kilometres beyond the Moon. Orion’s systems will then be monitored to ensure a safe Crew Module re-entry, splashdown, and recovery. Orion will stay in space longer than any spacecraft built for astronauts ever has without docking to a space station.

South Pole region of the Moon as seen by NASA’s Clementine spacecraft.
Credits: NASA

A successful Artemis I mission will bring us a step closer to seeing a Canadian Space Agency astronaut flying around the Moon as part of Artemis II, the first crewed mission to the Moon since 1972. This mission, currently planned to launch in 2024/2025, would make Canada the second country to have an astronaut fly around the Moon.

Artemis missions are an important part of NASA’s Artemis program, designed to send humans farther into space than ever before. Like the Apollo program over 50 years ago, Artemis will begin with missions around the Moon before a mission that lands on the lunar surface.

Canada has had an extensive recent government track record for investing in what some refer to as “The New Space Economy”. Space travel, space mining, space robotics, and earth observation are just some of the areas where deep investments have been made. Canada is also a leading nation in Astronomy. Space geeks have been following the progress of the James Webb Telescope which Canada has helped build.

NASA will hold a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 19, to announce regions near the lunar South Pole the agency has identified as potential areas for astronauts to land as part of the Artemis III mission, targeted for 2025. This will be the first time astronauts will set foot on the Moon since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Space investment became a national issue in 2017 when the country was about to be dumped from the International space community for its lack of investment. A concerted effort by the space community, including current and former astronauts, engineers and enthusiasts rallied to expose the potential that sixty plus years of innovation were about to be lost if we didn’t make the international commitment. This would include losing rides to space for our world leading astronauts. Events took place across the country and messages adorned the streets of Ottawa Canada via a coalition of space companies who came together in a creative campaign referred to as “Don’t Let Go Canada.” Astronauts and space leaders took to Twitter, Facebook, reddit and other social media spaces to evangelize the need for a new space strategy. The efforts paid off as Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s continued commitment by joining the ambitious Lunar Gateway Program. The program participation would ensure Canada remained a global leader in space innovation and spur investment in a sector that has some of our brightest minds.

Audio of the briefing will livestream on NASA’s website.

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