Space missions look forward to moons in 2023, and this is just the beginning – HuffPost

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SPACE – The year 2024 will be marked by the return of astronauts to the moon. Following the success of the Artemis I mission in 2022, NASA is preparing for the first manned mission to the Moon with Artemis II… 50 years after the Apollo program. The natural satellite is the subject of great desire and several space missions were launched there in 2023 and are scheduled to continue next year.

But our moon isn’t the only one excited about space missions. At the same time, other moons arouse scientists’ curiosity. As you can see in the video at the top of the articleThese are located almost 630 million kilometers from Earth, orbit Jupiter and could harbor life.

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The race to the moon

On the one hand, the United States, the only nation to have ever set foot on the moon and with its Artemis program hopes to be able to repeat this feat by 2025. But returning to the moon is only the first step. The Americans then hope to build a lunar base in orbit around the moon, not just to return there regularly. This base would then become the transition point before the flight to Mars.

On the other hand, China, a newcomer to the lunar conquest stage. Although it has only managed to send out probes for now, it remains the only nation that has explored the hidden side of the satellite. Their goal is for the first taikonauts to set foot on the moon by 2030. Just like the Americans, the Chinese also hope to one day build a lunar base, but they want to build it directly on the moon.

The Indian ISRO probe Chandrayaan-3 on the lunar surface

ISRO

Indian probe Chandrayaan-3 on the lunar surface

While China waits to achieve this, it is also using the moon to develop its entire space program. “The Chinese program is very technology-oriented. The aim is to learn how to develop cutting-edge technologies specifically for planetary exploration,” explains Francis Rocard, astrophysicist and head of the solar system exploration programs at CNES. “India is also taking the same approach but is less ambitious,” he told HuffPost.

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Test site for new space forces

The summer of 2023 was also marked by two lunar events. First of all, India was able to maintain its position as a space power. In mid-July it sent its Chandrayaan-3 probe towards Earth’s satellite. And on August 23, India achieved the feat and joined the very exclusive club of major space powers that had successfully completed a moon landing. Until then, only Russia (at the time of the USSR), the United States and China had succeeded.

At the same time, Russia came back with the resumption of its Luna program. In early August, it sent its Luna 25 probe, a first in more than 50 years. Just like the Indians with Chandrayaan-3, Russia is aiming to land at the South Pole because scientists have identified icy water there, but this water could become essential for future space missions. Unfortunately, Luna-25 crashed on the lunar surface ten days later.

Other countries are using the moon as a testing ground or want to do so. These include Japan and the United Arab Emirates. “There is a combination of circumstances between the American approach and other countries that see it as an opportunity to learn about space through missions to the moon,” emphasizes Francis Rocard.

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Alien life near Jupiter?

ESA illustration of the Juice probe flying over Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons.

ESA

Illustration of the Juice probe flying over Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons.

Even if our moon has nothing to do with those of Jupiter, the latter remain no less fascinating for scientists. “At the time of the Galileo missions, we discovered that there were oceans of salt water beneath the icy crust of these various moons,” recalls Gabriel Tobi, CNRS research director at the Laboratory of Planetary and Earth Sciences. “And when we think about the ocean, we think about potentially habitable places.”

For this reason, the European Space Agency (ESA) sent its JUICE probe last April. This must fly over the three Galilean moons and concentrate in particular on Ganymede, which is the only one with a magnetic field that protects against Jupiter’s radiation.

But the Europeans will not be alone in the Jupiter system; they will be joined by the Americans, who will also have to send a probe. NASA is scheduled to launch Europa Clipper in October 2024. As the name suggests, it will focus its mission on the moon called Europa. But JUICE and Europa Clipper have the same goal: to determine the habitability of Jupiter’s moons, i.e. whether life is possible there or not.

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Although this is not the case with our own moon, we may one day find life near Jupiter, hundreds of millions of kilometers away. In any case, the moons are more than ever gateways to the conquest of space: to new life forms or to infinite space.

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