One year later: What did the Artemis I mission accomplish?

16 Nov 2023

The Artemis I mission launch on 16 November 2022. Image: NASA/Keegan Barber

NASA used the Artemis I mission to test more than 50 years of space-tech developments, with the goal of landing astronauts on the moon in 2025.

It has been one year since NASA began its Artemis I mission, as a test to prepare the space agency to return to the moon.

After two scrubbed launch attempts, the uncrewed spacecraft blasted off on 16 November 2022 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It marked the first time NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and its Space Launch System took flight out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The mission lasted for 25 days and 10 hours, before the Orion vehicle splashed back to Earth successfully on 11 December 2022. But Artemis I is only a stepping stone for NASA’s grand goal: putting astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than 50 years.

In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo – who inspired the name for NASA’s previous ‘manned’ missions to the moon between 1969 and 1972.

On the anniversary of this historic space mission, let’s look at the goals of this mission, what it accomplished and what’s next on the Artemis agenda.

What were the goals of the Artemis I mission?

Quite simply, Artemis I was a test run for NASA to prepare itself for future missions to the moon. The US space agency is using a lot of new equipment and technology since the days of the Apollo missions.

This includes the Space Launch System – also called the SLS – which is a super-heavy-lift rocket and the “foundation” for NASA’s exploration goals beyond the Earth’s orbit.

The agency claims the SLS is the only rocket in its arsenal that can send Orion, astronauts and cargo to the moon on a single mission. NASA intends to use this rocket as the basis for future deep-space missions, including robotic scientific missions to planets like Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.

Meanwhile, Orion is the first spacecraft designed to bring humans into deep space that NASA has made in a generation. This reusable vehicle contains more than 50 years of spaceflight research and development since NASA’s previous missions to the moon.

Orion is designed to sustain and protect astronauts on deep-space missions, providing emergency abort capabilities and safe re-entry when returning back to Earth.

The Artemis I mission also tested NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) division, which develops and operates all of the systems and facilities needed for the Artemis missions. The EGS primarily handles the assembly, launch and recovery of rockets and spacecraft for NASA.

NASA said this division has also transformed the agency’s Kennedy Space Center into a spaceport that can handle various kinds of government and commercial spacecraft.

What did the Artemis I accomplish?

Overall, the Artemis I mission was a full success for NASA, hitting new records for the agency and marking an important milestone on its path to future lunar exploration missions.

The Orion spacecraft travelled more than 1.4m miles over the course of the mission and reached the moon’s orbit roughly 10 days after it launched from Earth. Orion also performed two lunar flybys while in orbit, coming within 80 miles of the lunar surface.

During re-entry, Orion endured temperatures about half as hot as the surface of our sun, according to NASA. The agency also said Orion stayed in space longer than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has in the past without docking to a space station.

Orion also surpassed the record for distance travelled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans, which NASA said was previously set during the Apollo 13 mission.

What’s next for Artemis?

The next step planned by NASA is the Artemis II mission, which will see a crew of four astronauts perform a flyby around the moon.

The crew of this mission includes the first woman and the first black person to ever embark on a lunar mission. Christina Hammock Koch, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman and Jeremy Hanson are expected to blast off towards the moon in late 2024.

This mission will be a follow-up of Artemis I, with the new broad goal of confirming that all of the spacecraft’s systems operate as intended when a crew is onboard.

If all goes well, the next target for NASA is Artemis III, its first human mission to the moon’s south pole. This mission will see the Orion spacecraft enter a “near-rectilinear halo orbit” around the moon.

Out of hundreds of potential orbits, NASA said this particular orbit will maximise fuel efficiency. provide near-constant communications with Earth and give Orion access to sites all over the moon.

For this mission, NASA has selected SpaceX to provide the Starship human landing system, which will transport the astronauts from Orion to the surface of the Moon and back up to lunar orbit.

On the moon’s surface, the astronauts will do scientific work from the Starship and explore the moon’s surface with advanced spacesuits. NASA said these suits will give the astronauts increased range of motion and flexibility than the lunar missions of the past.

Why did NASA choose the moon’s south pole?

In recent years, carbon dioxide cold traps have been detected on the moon – particularly in the south pole region – which could contain solid CO2. Explorers can use this CO2 to make steel, rocket fuel and biological materials to stay on the moon for longer, making such cold traps high priority sites for lunar missions.

This makes the south pole a vital location for any country that aims to explore the moon. Various other countries have been in their own space race recently while NASA prepares its next Artemis mission.

In August, both India and Russia were locked in a race to reach the moon’s south pole first. India successfully landed its spacecraft – the Chandrayaan-3 – on the south pole of the moon on 23 August, becoming the first country to land on the moon’s south pole and the second country after China to successfully land a rover on the moon in this century.

Unfortunately for Russia, its Luna-25 mission crashed into the lunar surface two days before India’s successful landing. It was the first lunar mission Russia has launched since 1976, during the time of the Soviet Union.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic