“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.
These words were spoken by Neil Armstrong when he became the first person to walk on the moon. After eleven more steps for men, not a single woman has been able to do the same.
Now, however, NASA’s Artemis missions will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the moon by the ambitious goal of 2024. The future landings will be for more than just scientific discovery; these astronauts will be huge role models for the ‘Artemis Generation’.
Almost 90% of NASA astronauts have been men, so it’s about time NASA rectifies decades of inequality. Putting the need for increased diversity in science so openly in the public eye is a vital step towards reducing the gender and ethnicity disparities in STEM.
A study commissioned by CWJobs has shown that having role models is much more important for women, with 60% of women working in STEM saying they were inspired by a role model, compared to 46% of men. Professor Sue Black of Durham University presented these results, adding that “without [role models] I have no idea where I would be now”.
Aside from creating role models, these missions will help future generations’ space explorations, and improve the understanding of our own planet and the wider universe. Lunar rovers have been operating for more than fifty years, but having astronauts on the moon means we’ll be able to examine significantly more, and possibly discover things we weren’t anticipating.
Scientists are hoping to find rocks that have settled on the moon after being blasted from the Earth during asteroid strikes. Rocks this old can’t be found on Earth, but the lack of atmosphere on the moon has allowed them to be preserved, meaning they hold a unique insight into the origins of life on Earth.
NASA plan to establish the Artemis Base Camp at the lunar south pole, which will support longer expeditions on the surface. It will also aid trips to Mars, as far less fuel is needed to escape the moon’s gravity compared to Earth’s, meaning take-offs to other planets can be cheaper, and rockets can be larger to accommodate more equipment.
Once set up, the base will also allow us to more easily build structures on the moon. Radio telescopes will be installed on the dark side of the moon, where there is no interference from Earth, resulting in better images, drastically increasing what we know about the wider universe.
Back on Earth, there is a huge need to move exclusively to sustainable sources of energy. Surprisingly, the moon may be able to help with this. With less atmosphere and more exposure to sunlight, photovoltaic cells on the moon could generate more energy than those on Earth. The moon also has an abundance of Helium-3, which is extremely rare on Earth. This can be used to generate nuclear energy via fusion, which wastes less energy than regular nuclear power, and has no radiation waste.
Increasing public awareness of the need to continue exploring space is essential. The Museum of the Moon, a touring artwork currently in Durham Cathedral, is one way of doing this. Featuring a moon seven metres in diameter that’s detailed with NASA imagery, it hangs between the cathedral’s columns, acting as an extraordinary piece of art and a beacon for space science.
Image: Thomas Tomlinson