AstroFriday program on lunar exploration coincides with launch of NASA's Artemis program

'Flight to the Moon' video chronicles 2009 lunar missions

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • The "Flight to the Moon" program will be show at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 8 at the Planetarium on the college campus.
  • Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis, and no one will be admitted after the programs have begun.
  • Call 505-566-3361 or check out the San Juan College Planetarium Facebook page for more information.

FARMINGTON — With public interest in the moon on the upswing again as NASA moves into high gear for its planned series of Artemis missions, this month's AstroFriday program at the San Juan College Planetarium takes on increased relevance.

The Planetarium will present "Flight to the Moon: LRO and LCROSS Revisted," a 10-minute video that chronicles two unmanned lunar exploration missions undertaken by NASA in 2009. The missions were significant because they confirmed researchers' belief that there was water on the moon locked up in icy craters, Planetarium director David Mayeux said.

That discovery has major implications for NASA's plans to return to the moon in the near future and perhaps even establish a regular human presence there. The agency is just a few months away from launching the first mission of the Artemis program, which will send an uncrewed spacecraft around and beyond the moon this summer.

That mission will serve as a precursor to a manned mission back to the moon, which is scheduled to take place by 2025.

The NASA video "Flight to the Moon: LRO and LCROSS Revisted" will be shown at the San Juan College Planetarium this weekend as part of the monthly AstroFriday series.

"I think if we're going to go and try to send manned missions to Mars and continue our exploration of the solar system, a mission to the moon is the logical place to start with an off-earth presence," Mayeux said of NASA's logic for going back to the moon for the first time since the last of the Apollo missions in 1972.

A human return to the moon offers all sorts of benefits, he said, citing its likely use as a staging and launch site for spacecraft on Martian and deep-space exploration missions. The moon's lack of an atmosphere makes it much easier and cheaper to launch spacecraft from there, he said. That lack of an atmosphere also would make the moon an attractive site for an observatory, Mayeux noted.

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The Artemis program had been scheduled to go through a so-called "wet dress rehearsal" earlier this week in which the rocket powering the Orion spacecraft was to be filled with fuel on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and a countdown was to be conducted without an actual launch taking place. But that test was scrubbed April 4 by technical difficulties, with no word on when it now will take place.

The Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen at sunrise atop a mobile launcher on April 4 as the Artemis I launch team conducts the wet dress rehearsal test at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The timing of subsequent Artemis missions will depend on the success or failure of the initial Artemis mission this summer, NASA officials have said. The timing of that unmanned mission likely will coincide with the planned return of the first images from the new James Webb Space Telescope, which was launched in late 2021 and has been undergoing mirror alignment procedures for the past few months after reaching its position in orbit around the sun.

All of that should make for a very exciting summer in the space exploration realm, Mayeux said.

"I don't like to make superlatives about it, but it's definitely got a lot of interesting things going on," he said.

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Mayeux said he's not sure there will be the same sense of wonder about a human return to the moon as there was when it first happened in 1969, but he has no doubt there will be plenty to be excited about.

"There'll be a different feel to it," he said. " … I think what will make it different will be the intention of the mission."

While the Apollo missions were historic and fascinating, he said, they served as humankind's first, tentative steps off its own world and were not intended to pave the way for a longer-term human presence on the moon the way the Artemis missions are.

"This is us staking a claim for humanity  'OK, now let's do some stuff while we're here,'" Mayeux said.

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The "Flight to the Moon" program will be show at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 8 at the Planetarium on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis, and no one will be admitted after the programs have begun. Each program also will include a live sky show.

Mayeux also plans to set up a telescope in the courtyard outside the Planetarium at approximately 8:30 p.m., weather permitting, for a free, public stargazing session.

Call 505-566-3361 or check out the San Juan College Planetarium Facebook page for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.