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In 2023, space missions are centered around moons, and that's just the beginning

In 2023, space missions are centered around moons, and that's just the beginning

Space – 2024 will see astronauts return to the moon. After the success of the Artemis 1 mission in 2022, NASA is preparing for the first manned mission to the moon with the Artemis 2 vehicle… 50 years after the Apollo program. The natural satellite is highly sought after, and several space missions were launched there in 2023 and are scheduled to continue next year.

But our moon is not the only moon that excites space missions. Meanwhile, other moons arouse scientists' curiosity. As you can see in the video at the top of the articleThese planets are located about 630 million kilometers from Earth, orbit around Jupiter and could support life.

Race to the moon

On the one hand, the United States, the only country to have set foot on the Moon, hopes to repeat the feat by 2025 through its Artemis program. But returning to the moon is only the first step. The Americans then hope to create a lunar base in orbit around the moon to return there regularly, and not only. This base will then become a transit point before going to Mars.

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On the other hand, China, a newcomer on the stage of conquering the moon. Even if it has succeeded so far in sending only sensors, it remains the only country that has explored the hidden side of the satellite. Its goal is for the first astronauts to land on the moon by 2030. As with the Americans, the Chinese hope to one day establish a lunar base, but they want to build one directly on the moon.

The Indian probe Chandrayaan-3 on the moon's surface
ISRO The Indian probe Chandrayaan-3 on the moon's surface

ISRO

The Indian probe Chandrayaan-3 on the moon's surface

Pending this, China is also using the moon to develop its space program as a whole. “The Chinese program is very focused on technology. The goal is to learn how to develop very advanced technologies for planetary exploration.explains Francis Rocard, an astrophysicist and head of the Solar System Exploration Programs at the French National Center for Space Studies. “India also has the same approach but is less ambitious.” Explains to HuffPost.

A testing ground for new alien powers

The summer of 2023 was also marked by two lunar events. First of all, India has been able to assert its status as a space power. In mid-July, it sent its Chandrayaan-3 probe towards Earth's satellite. On August 23, India achieved this feat and joined the very exclusive club of major space powers after successfully landing on the moon. Until then, only Russia (in the era of the Soviet Union), the United States, and China had succeeded.

Meanwhile, there has been a comeback for Russia with the resumption of the Luna program. At the beginning of August, it sent its Luna-25 probe, the first in more than 50 years. Just as the Indians did with Chandrayaan 3, Russia is seeking to land in Antarctica, because scientists have identified icy water there, but this water could become essential for future space missions. Unfortunately, Luna-25 ended up crashing onto the moon's surface ten days later.

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Other countries are using or aim to use the Moon as a testing ground. Among them are Japan and the United Arab Emirates. “There is a set of circumstances between the American approach and other countries that see it as a way to learn about deep space through the use of missions to the moon.” Francis Rocard confirms.

Extraterrestrial life near Jupiter?

Illustration of the Goss probe flying over Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons.
European Space Agency Illustration of the Goss probe flying over Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons.

European Space Agency

Illustration of the Goss probe flying over Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons.

If our moon has nothing to do with Jupiter's moon, the latter is no less exciting for scientists. “At the time of the Galileo missions, we discovered that beneath the icy crusts of these various moons, there were oceans of salt water.” recalls Gabriel Tobi, CNRS's research director at the Laboratory of Planetary and Earth Sciences. “And when we think about the ocean, we think about places that are potentially habitable.”

That's why the European Space Agency (ESA) sent its JUICE probe last April. This one should fly over the three Galilean moons, with special emphasis on Ganymede, the only moon with a magnetic field that protects against Jupiter's radiation.

But the Europeans will not be alone in the Jovian system, they will be joined by the Americans who must also send a probe. NASA is scheduled to launch Europa Clipper in October 2024. As its name suggests, it will focus its mission on the moon called Europa. But JUICE and Europa Clipper have the same goal: to determine how habitable Jupiter's moons are, that is, whether life is possible there.

Although this is not the case for our Moon, we may one day find life near Jupiter, hundreds of millions of kilometers away. However, moons are more than ever gateways to the conquest of space: to new forms of life, or to infinite space.

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