NASA’s quest to return humans to the moon has finally gotten off the ground. After being stymied by repairs and hurricanes, the Artemis 1 mission launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral early Wednesday morning. 

Success on this uncrewed flight to the moon and back would signal momentum toward a broader vision: a multiplanetary future for humanity. The Artemis program is designed to put humans back on the moon, as a way station for travel to Mars – and beyond. 

Why We Wrote This

A NASA launch Wednesday is designed to pave the way for humans to return to the lunar surface after a five-decade gap. The motivations go far beyond exploring the moon itself.

Advocates for a multiplanetary future often cite the need to establish homes for humanity in other places in order to ensure our species’ long-term survival.

But other urges are at play as well, from profit to exploration, experts say. 

“The biggest challenge is deciding who is getting a say in why we’re going to space, how we’re going to space, and when we’re going to space, and who is getting left behind,” says Savannah Mandel, an outer space anthropologist and a Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech.

“The motivations for sending humans to outer space are incredibly emotional and full of heart,” she adds. To use a travel analogy, “seeing Florida on a postcard is not the same as standing on a Florida beach,” she says.

NASA’s quest to return humans to the moon has finally gotten off the ground. After being stymied by repairs and hurricanes, the Artemis 1 mission launched from Florida’s Cape Canaveral early Wednesday morning. 

This first mission is an uncrewed test of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft – shooting all the way to the moon and back – so that everything goes smoothly when humans do climb aboard for a trip to Earth’s companion.

But Artemis 1 is more than just a technological test. Success would signal momentum toward a broader vision for a multiplanetary future for humanity. Complete with construction of a permanent lunar outpost, the Artemis program is designed to establish a way station for travel to Mars – and beyond. Behind the audacity of that goal, shared by NASA and numerous private space companies, is a faith in the potential of human ingenuity.

Why We Wrote This

A NASA launch Wednesday is designed to pave the way for humans to return to the lunar surface after a five-decade gap. The motivations go far beyond exploring the moon itself.

“The capabilities that we will develop for the Moon to Mars Program can and will enable a multiplanet species,” says Patrick Troutman, a NASA space architect for the agency’s Moon to Mars vision.

That future will be shaped by motivations – from security to exploration – that have already defined much of human experience on Earth, experts say.

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