As Artemis moves forward, NASA picks SpaceX Human Lunar Lander

Illustration of SpaceX Starship human lander design that will carry NASA astronauts to the Moon’s surface during the Artemis mission. Credit: SpaceX

April 16, 2021 — NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to explore more of the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and the agency has selected SpaceX to continue development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface.

The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

“With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”

“This is an exciting time for NASA and especially the Artemis team,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for HLS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “During the Apollo program, we proved that it is possible to do the seemingly impossible: land humans on the Moon. By taking a collaborative approach in working with industry while leveraging NASA’s proven technical expertise and capabilities, we will return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface once again, this time to explore new areas for longer periods of time.”

SpaceX’s HLS Starship, designed to land on the Moon, leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks. The Starship architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.

Weak lunar eclipse coming November 30

There will be a lunar eclipse the morning of November 30, 2020 but you may not want to get out of a warm bed to view it — it will be fairly “weak.” This month’s eclipse, viewable in its entirely from Northern Ohio (given clear skies) is of the penumbral variety and will not display the eerie colors that make total lunar eclipses so exciting.

NASA Solar and Earth images, illustration by James Guilford.
A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the thin outer portion of the shadow Earth casts out into space.

A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Full Moon passes through the shady outer circle — the penumbra — of Earth’s shadow streaming out into space. Careful observers will note how most of Moon dims slightly with a sliver of a brighter southern edge and a darker northern area. During a total lunar eclipse, the Full Moon passes fully through the darkest portion of Earth’s shadow, the umbra, and is illuminated by the colors of the globe’s sunrises and sunsets. Again, that won’t happen this time.

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse – November 30, 2020. Credit: F. Espenak, NASA’s GSFC

Most of Monday’s event is quite subtle and takes a long time, many won’t even notice the difference. If you want to see this eclipse at its best, even photogenic, view it only around maximum. The penumbral eclipse begins [P1] at 2:32 AM, reaches its Greatest eclipse (you may note northern darkening) at 4:52 AM, and the event ends [P4] at 6:53 AM when Moon completes its emergence from Earth’s shade.

The next total lunar eclipse — the type that features coppery-red colors at its peak — will take place May 26, 2021; unfortunately, that event will reach its maximum as Moon sets locally. The next total lunar eclipse that we might see in its entirety will take place May 16, 2022 and that should be a doozie!

October 3: A brilliant pairing of lights

Earth’s Moon and Planet Mars will be just over one degree apart at 12:17 AM EDT, Saturday, October 3, as viewed from the Medina, Ohio area. Credit: Sky Safari/James Guilford

The night of October 2 – 3 will see a brilliant pairing of lights in our night sky. Earth’s Moon and planet Mars will shine close together — only a smidgen over a degree apart — in the southeast. As viewed from the Medina, Ohio area, Moon and Mars will be nearest each other at 12:17 AM EDT. Don’t worry if you can’t stay up, the two will be a beautiful pair to behold all night long.

Our Moon will be a day past Full and in its Waning Gibbous phase, so it will be round and bright. Mars, while too distant to be seen as a disc by the unaided eye, is nearing an unusually close approach to Earth during its opposition and will shine like a coppery star. Mars will be nearest to Earth, at 62 million kilometers (38,525,014 miles) distant, on October 6 and it won’t be that close again until 2035.

Opposition refers to a time in their orbits when Mars (or another planet) is opposite the Earth from the Sun — around that time is when the two bodies, on concentric racetrack orbits around the Sun, pass each other and are at their closest and brightest.

When Moon, Venus, and a Beehive got together

Conjunction of Earth’s Moon and planet Venus with M44 as a bonus! September 14, 2020. Photo by Frank Shoemaker.

CAA member Frank Shoemaker, despite challenging seeing conditions and the early hour, captured a fine image of the September 14 conjunction of Earth’s Moon and planet Venus. As luck would have it, the conjunction occurred in constellation Cancer home of the lovely open cluster M44, the “Beehive”. The technical info.: Canon EOS 6D Mark 2, 100mm, f/4.5, 19 seconds, 5:29 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.