We need to be first on the Moon, uh, again, says NASA

'I don't want China to get to the south pole with humans and then say: this is ours, stay out'

NASA boss Bill Nelson says America is "in a space race with China" and wants its astronauts back on the Moon before anyone else – to make sure foreign states don't take control of water and other resources on Earth's natural satellite.

On Tuesday, in a news briefing updating journos on the progress of the Artemis II mission, the US space agency's administrator outlined plans to establish a long-term lunar base in the "for all mankind" spirit of the Apollo missions half a century ago, from which astronauts can explore the Solar System further out to Mars and beyond.

One goal is to land on the Moon's south pole, where scientists suspect there is water and ice – a vital resource for human survival. "I don't want China to get to the south pole first with humans and then say: this is ours, stay out … If indeed we find water in abundance there that could be utilized for future crews and spacecraft, we want to make sure that's available to all, not just the one that's claiming it," Nelson said.

Russia also has similar aspirations, and is planning to launch Luna-25 – a robotic lander designed to probe the regolith and plasma and dust in the lunar polar exosphere – this Friday. Nelson, however, said Russia was less of a threat. The US has collaborated with the Roscosmos for decades, and the Kremlin probably won't be able to send cosmonauts to the Moon for a while yet.

NASA's Artemis II mission is set to involve sending four astronauts around the Moon over a ten-day journey in November 2024, its first-ever crewed test of its Orion capsule and Space Launch System rocket.

The group is made up of NASA Commander Reid Wiseman; pilot Victor Glover; mission specialist Christina Hammock Koch; and the Canadian Space Agency's mission Specialist Jeremy Hansen. They got their first good look at the lunar spacecraft they will be flying in this week.

"We're fired up," said Wiseman. He said the success of the Artemis II mission would lead to the next group being able to set foot on the surface of the Moon, NASA building its lunar Gateway outpost, and astronauts reaching Mars one day. "Artemis II is the tiniest footprint in the Artemis campaign," the commander said.

NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy said the space agency will conduct experiments focusing on the effects of radiation on the crew in the Artemis II flight. "We have the hardware not just for Artemis II, but for flights all the way out to Artemis VI already in work," she added.

As engineers continue to prepare for the mission, they will be upgrading and fixing components from the capsule and rocket from the first test flight. The core stage of the SLS launch vehicle needs to be repaired, for example. NASA is also still trying to figure out what caused the heat shield – designed to protect its Orion lunar capsule as it returns back to Earth – to burn up more than expected.

Jim Free, the space agency's associate administrator, Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said the problem was currently the "biggest open issue" in preparation for returning to the Moon. ®

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