Humans last set foot on the moon in 1972 with NASA's Apollo 17 mission. Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan appears in this photo with the parked Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon.
NASA hopes to both relive and expand on its moon glory days with the Artemis program, which includes a planned 2024 mission to land the first woman and the next man on the moon. The timeline is daring and NASA has many challenges to overcome on its way. Here's how it hopes to pull off what would be a huge space triumph.
Originally published July 17, 2019. Update, Oct. 24: Adds additional images.
A brilliant full moon rose at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2017. This image is a good reminder of where the space agency wants to go in 2024. More specifically, NASA is eyeing the icy lunar South Pole.
NASA said the ice could potentially be used for "drinking, cooling equipment, breathing and making rocket fuel." Those will all be important if we plan to stay at the moon and use it as a way station for Mars.
You need a big rocket to get astronauts all the way to the moon and eventually Mars. That's where NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) comes in. This is just a rendering of SLS, because the system is still under development and has faced many delays during the process.
"Earth blue, rocket red and lunar silver" is how NASA describes the colors used in the logo for the Artemis program. The logo pulls from the history of the Apollo program. The blue crescent represents Earth while the red sweep represents the trajectory to the moon.
Woman on the Moon logo
NASA unveiled a new Woman on the Moon logo for the Artemis program in October 2019. The logo shows the Greek goddess (twin sister of Apollo) inside a circle with a stylized rocket trajectory aimed at a crescent moon.
"Her features are abstract enough that any woman can see themselves in her," NASA said.
NASA chose a prominent red, white and blue color scheme for its new xEMU spacesuit design. The agency showed off a prototype version of the suit, which is more flexible than the ones from the Apollo era, in October 2019.
This NASA illustration gives us an idea of how flexible the new xEMU spacesuits will be for astronauts exploring the moon. The Apollo suits offered a very limited range of motion. The modern design lets astronauts bend at the knees, reach across themselves and lift objects over their heads.
This massive piece of gear is the Liquid Oxygen tank for NASA's Space Launch System on its way to testing at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, in July 2019. The rocket system uses two propellant tanks in its core stage. NASA hopes SLS will power its Artemis missions toward the moon.
Engines for Artemis
These big engines are destined to attach to the Space Launch System core rocket for NASA's anticipated uncrewed Artemis 1 mission. The engines run on liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. If Artemis 1 is successful, NASA will focus on the crewed Artemis 2 mission to return astronauts to the moon.
Orion crew module
The Orion crew module is under construction in this image from July 2018. As NASA's next-generation spacecraft, Orion is designed to take astronauts to the moon and beyond.
"Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain astronauts during their missions and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities," said NASA.
Vice President Mike Pence announced the completion of an Orion crew capsule at Kennedy Space Center in July 2019. "Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight," Pence said.
Reaching the moon is one thing, getting safely back to Earth is another. This 16-foot-long (5-meter-long) heat shield is designed to protect astronauts in an Orion crew module from the raging heat of atmospheric reentry on the way home.
The heat shield is meant for the Artemis 2 mission, the first crewed return to the moon. It was manufactured by Lockheed Martin.
Vice President Mike Pence announced the Orion crew capsule completion at Kennedy Space Center on July 20, 2019 during the 50th anniversary celebrations for Apollo 11.
"Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight," Pence said.
The Ascent Abort-2 flight test involved launching a rocket and then separating the Orion test vehicle that was on board. The test vehicle landed safely in the ocean. This successfully simulated how the Launch Abort System would work.
NASA sent a dummy Orion capsule up into the air for its Launch Abort System test in July 2019 in Florida. During the test, the system's three motors pulled the capsule away from the booster so it could land unscathed in the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA doesn't just want to get back to the moon, it wants to stay. This rendering shows the Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway at the moon. The Gateway would be a space station and an eventual jumping-off point for expeditions to the moon's surface and to Mars.
Photo edited by NASA/Ron Beard, Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray
NASA Orion recovery
Prepping a spacecraft to leave this planet requires a lot of testing. NASA captured this lovely photo of an Orion ocean recovery operation at sunset on the Pacific in November 2018. The Orion crew capsule is designed to return to Earth, deploy parachutes and splash down in the ocean.
NASA wants to land on the moon again and again, and it is partnering with US companies to design and develop reusable lunar landing systems. This artist's concept shows what that might look like. NASA intends to ferry astronauts between the orbiting lunar Gateway and the lunar surface.
NASA's Artemis moon missions will be getting a special launcher of their very own. This imposing structure is the mobile launcher, which is designed to host the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. The launcher is located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it's undergoing testing prior to the first Artemis mission.
NASA's 2017 astronaut class
NASA has said the first woman and next man to reach the moon will come from its current crop of astronauts. We just don't know who they will be yet. The agency introduced these 12 new astronaut candidates for its class of 2017. The moon mission crew could come from among this pool, or from earlier classes of astronauts that are still active.
Artemis astronauts will be sporting spacesuits for protection, but they'll still need to be able to move and operate controls inside the Orion capsule. Engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston tested out these Modified Advanced Crew Escape spacesuits in 2017.
Mission control for modern times
NASA's Mission Control in Houston looks a bit different than it did in the Apollo days of the '60s and '70s. In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo. The Artemis mission controllers will communicate with the crew using NASA's satellite networks.
NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Bell/M. Wolff (Space Science Institute)
And onward to Mars
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this portrait of Mars. NASA's Artemis moon mission is seen as a stepping stone to deeper human space exploration missions, with Mars as the ultimate goal.