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What will happen next with the month

These private companies are backed by millions of dollars of public money, driven by NASA’s desire to return humans to the moon through the Artemis program. NASA wants to expand commercial activity on the moon in the same way that it helped fund commercial activity in Earth orbit with companies like SpaceX.

“The goal is for us to go back to the moon, open up a lunar economy and continue the exploration of Mars,” said Nujud Meransi, head of NASA’s Exploration Mission Planning Division at the Johnson Space Center in Texas. The ultimate plan, Merancy says, is to create a “permanent settlement on the moon.”

Not everyone is convinced, especially when it comes to how companies will make money on lunar missions outside of NASA funding. “What is the GDP of the lunar activity?” says Sinead O’Sullivan, former senior fellow at Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness. “Some commercial economy may be developing, but it’s hard to tell.”

People are coming back too

In November 2024, if all goes according to plan, the Artemis II mission will send a crew of four astronauts — three Americans and one Canadian — around the moon on a 10-day mission aboard NASA’s Orion spacecraft, launched by the agency’s powerful new Space Launch System rocket.

Humans haven’t traveled to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. The goal, however, is “not just to go back, but to stay and explore,” says Merancy. Artemis II “really ensures that the vehicles are ready for longer missions in the future.”

Also in November 2024, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket is scheduled to carry the first modules of NASA’s new space station near the Moon called Lunar Gateway. Gateway is intended to support Artemis missions to the Moon, although the exact relationship is still somewhat murky. The first humans to return to the moon are due to land in 2025 aboard the SpaceX Starship as part of Artemis III.

However, much work remains to be done, not least proving that Starship can launch from Earth (after a failed test flight in April 2023) and refuel in space. This leaves some questioning the 2025 time frame. “A 2029 landing would be really optimistic,” says Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.

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