Crucial Events on the Path Back to the Moon
NASA wants to put American astronauts on the moon’s surface in the years ahead with the Artemis III mission. Before that can happen, though, many things have to go right, and two of the most important are scheduled for 2024.
The first is the Artemis II mission. NASA introduced the four astronauts of Artemis II last year. As soon as November, the four could travel around the moon and back. They would be the first humans to travel near the moon since 1972, when the Apollo 17 mission concluded. To fly in 2024, NASA will need to resolve issues with a heat shield on the astronauts’ spacecraft, as well as overcome other potential delays.
The second hurdle is that the Orion capsule can only orbit the moon — it doesn’t land. Astronauts need another vehicle to head to the surface. For the moment, that is a version of Starship, the spacecraft that is being built by SpaceX, the private spaceflight company founded by Elon Musk. But Starship needs a lot of work before it will be ready to carry astronauts to the moon.
Prototypes of Mr. Musk’s Starship launched twice in 2023, and each mission ended in a fiery blast. SpaceX has said it wants to fly the next Starship test early in 2024
The celestial spectacle of 2024 will be the “Great North American Eclipse.” On April 8, the moon will get in the way of the sun, darkening the Earth during the day time. The eclipse’s broad path starts in Mexico, crosses into Texas, continues up through Arkansas and Missouri into Southern Illinois, crosses into Indiana and Ohio, then darkens western New York and states in New England before ending in Canada’s eastern provinces.
If you live in the path, get ready for visitors. (You can’t book travel to the path of totality soon enough.) And if you plan to observe the eclipse — from anywhere — it’s time to order eclipse glasses or other protective viewers.
Falcon 9 rockets, built and operated by SpaceX, have become the dominant way to get to space. The launcher or its Falcon Heavy variant flew 96 times in 2023, with every flight to orbit a success. But SpaceX should expect new competitors on launchpads in 2024. They include:
Vulcan, a rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The rocket’s engines are built by Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon. It could fly on Jan. 8.
Ariane 6, a European rocket. The European Space Agency has been without a dedicated vehicle to get to orbit recently, forcing Europe to rely on SpaceX and others to get spacecraft out into the solar system. After a series of delays, Ariane 6’s first flight could occur in June.