Last week, NASA launched the long-awaited Artemis 1 flight, the first of several missions to determine human presence on and around the Moon. But while this is only the beginning of this long quest, one official says major steps could be seen earlier, rather quickly.

Howard Hu, program manager for the Orion spacecraft aboard the Artemis 1 flight, said BBC that the agency plans to live on the moon sooner rather than later.

“We will certainly have people alive in this decade [on the moon]he told the BBC. “The duration, you know, depends on how long we’re on the surface. They will live, they will have habitats and they will have rovers on the ground. … So not only are we able to work on getting people to the moon, getting people to the surface of the moon, but they still have to have the infrastructure.”

But ultimately, he added, “it’s more than life – it’s really about science.”

“We will send people to the surface and they will live there and do science,” he said.

The current Artemis I mission is an uncrewed four-to-six-week endeavor that will see the Orion spacecraft fly to the Moon, eventually reaching about 62 miles above its surface before the Moon’s gravity pulls it into orbit. The data and information it collects will be used for future flights with people on board – a mission called Artemis II which is scheduled to start in 2023.

However, this is the next mission, Artemis III, where the crew will actually touch the surface of the moon. When that happens, it will be the first time humans have been on the moon since 1972.

Hu told the BBC that the main reason for the initiative is to see if there is water at the moon’s south pole that could be turned into potential fuel for spacecraft that could go deeper into space. He said it could be particularly beneficial for Mars research.

“It’s going to be really important for us to learn a bit beyond Earth orbit and then take a big step when we go to Mars,” Hu told the BBC. “And the Artemis missions allow us to have a sustainable platform and transport system that allows us to learn how to operate in this deep space environment.”

He said the current Artemis I mission – the key to all of this – is going well.

On Monday, the Orion spacecraft made its closest flyby of the Moon, arriving at approx 80 miles above its surface at over 5,100 miles per hour, according to NASA. The craft has just one more maneuver to enter the Moon’s distant retrograde orbit, which it is due to complete on Friday.

All of this is to provide the “foundations” of life in space, Hu said.

“These are milestones that will hopefully enable this future capability,” he said. “… and give these opportunities to our children, grandchildren and their children.”

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