It’s been 50 years since NASA last sent astronauts to the Moon!

After decades of delays, NASA is finally returning humans to the Moon in the coming years. The first launch of the mega rocket that will take them there and help establish a permanent presence is scheduled for 29th August 2022 (USA time) and there’s already been over 100,000 tickets sold to the liftoff. It will be the largest rocket NASA has launched since the last flight of the Saturn V in 1974.

It will be a big news story, so what comes next?

So why did Apollo stop and what is the Artemis program?

Several Apollo Moon landing missions were cancelled, and the program cut short. The last “Moonshot” was Apollo 17 in December 1972. There were originally 20 Apollo missions planned.  One mission was cancelled after the Apollo 1 fire, and another two after the Apollo 13 near tragedy.  While technical issues were certainly a factor, the vast costs of the Apollo Moon program was the main factor. America had “beaten the Russians” in the race to the Moon, so why keep going back there? Much of the hardware for later Apollo missions was already built. Some was re-purposed for the Skylab program and with complete Saturn V rocket on static display in the USA.

Apollo 17

NASA then turned its focus to the Space Shuttle, which flew from 1981 to 2011. While a sucess in its own right, it was not designed to leave low Earth orbit and a return to the Moon remained impossible.


After such a long delay, NASA in conjunction with several other space agencies will commence the return of humans to the Moon starting with the launch of Artemis-1. This will be the first launch of the Space Launch System or SLS.

Artemis-1 on the launch pad undergoing tests

The SLS is the largest space vehicle flown by NASA since the Saturn V of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s designed to be a versatile launch system, rather than a single purpose vehicle just to take humans to the Moon.

Apart from the Artemis Moon flights, the SLS will launch the NASA’s Europa Clipper, a mission to explore the oceans on Jupiter’s moon Europe and search for the right conditions for life. It will possibly even help with crewed flight beyond the Moon to Mars!

But don’t expect an accelerated program to land humans back on the Moon. Unlike Apollo, there’s no “Space Race”.  The estimated launch program for Artemis will be:

Artemis-I : August 2022

This will be uncrewed flight of about 6 weeks duration that will orbit the Moon and return. It will be the second flight of the Orion crew capsule its first flight below low Earth orbit. The Orion will be the main spacecraft to take astronauts beyond the Earth in the coming decades.  While no humans will be aboard Artemis-1 there will be one lone astronaut keeping a close eye on the flight – Sean The Sheep will ride along.  Seriously.

Artemis-II : May  2024

The second Artemis flight in two years will be a 4 person Lunar orbit mission to test hardware and systems.  No Moon landing will be attempted on this flight.  For those family with the Apollo program this is the Artemis version “Apollo 10”.

Artemis-2 in Lunar Orbit

Artemis-III : “Sometime” in 2025

This is the Mission that’s planned to return humans to the surface of the Moon for the first time since December 1972.  A key part of this mission will be the Starship HLS, or Starship Human Landing System.  The SLS will be built in conjunction with SpaceX and needs to be in place before a Lunar landing can be make.

SLS is the vehicle and systems that will transfer astronauts to and from the Orion spacecraft to the Moon.  Unlike the Apollo missions where everything needed for each Lunar landing was carried aboard along with the astronauts on a single Saturn V rocket, the Artemis landing will rendezvous with the Starship HLS that will already be in complex “halo” orbit around the Earth and the Moon.

Artemis-III mission profile


Once the first crewed Artemis missions puts boots back on the Moon, several others are planned to put Lunar Gateway space stations in place and establish a permanent human presence beyond Earth orbit.

This will help us learn how to work and live for longer terms and is a NASA has clearly stated that Artemis is a gateway to putting humans on Mars.

If you’d like to read more about Artemis, visit the NASA program page here.



Earl White




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