What it means for Rwanda to be invited to the launch of Artemis 1

Colonel Francis Ngabo, Director General, Rwanda Space Agency

50 years have passed since what was considered “a great leap forward for humanity”. Although this mission was born out of geopolitical competition between the Soviet Union and the United States, the Apollo missions led to innovation and the progression of a space industry focused on understanding what lies beyond. beyond our planet, what the universe has to offer and how this can help humanity progress. This historic event was a turning point in history that sparked a cultural explosion, including songs, TV shows, movies, and most importantly, a new generation of scientists and engineers.

The first moon missions, named after Apollo – the god of divine distance – aimed to explore the moon with the goal of landing the first humans on the moon. Complementary to Apollo, the Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister, was launched in 2017 to continue the program’s efforts and foster further research and technological developments using diplomacy and international cooperation. Additionally, this program aspires to put a person of color and a woman on the moon, ushering in a new era for the exploration and use of space.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will launch Artemis 1, the first in a series of innovative missions aimed at establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon. The purpose of this uncrewed mission is to demonstrate that the NASA system in the spacecraft is able to go to space and return safely and thus prepare the way for Artemis II, which will be manned. This launch was originally scheduled for August 29, 2022, but was delayed because one of the four main engines could not be cooled to the temperatures required to handle its extremely cold propellant by the launch controllers.

The Artemis I mission will orbit the Moon for about four weeks and study the effects of space travel on the human body. Through this program, the United States government and other countries participating in the program have signed a bilateral agreement known as the Artemis Accords. These guidelines will define a set of consensus-based principles for establishing a safe and open environment that supports economic, scientific and exploration activities for the benefit of all humanity. These principles are based on the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

The Rwandan Space Agency (RSA) is among the few African space agencies invited to witness the historic launch of the Artemis space system at Kennedy Space Center in Florida – USA. RSA views this invitation from NASA as an acknowledgment of the importance that the government of Rwanda places on the development of space services in the country.

Like other African nations, Rwanda is aware of the value of space technology and its ability to solve a variety of problems. Like many African space agencies, RSA focuses on the development of downstream space services to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. However, we are closely following what is happening globally in terms of deep space exploration. As Rwanda considers joining programs like the Artemis Accords, this will allow us to stay abreast of major deep space exploration initiatives.

According to NASA engineers, the Artemis I mission systems will be launched on the most powerful rocket in the world, and it will fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. Mike Sarafin, the Artemis 1 mission manager, this is a mission that will really do what has not been done and learn what is not known; “It will open a path for people to follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the envelope to prepare for this mission.”

Enabling shared opportunities for peaceful space explorations will benefit humanity through the discovery of solutions for advanced space technologies, advances in medicine, protection of the planet and the environment, creation of scientific jobs and techniques and scientific breakthroughs resulting from the exploration of the unknown. To understand how and why the Artemis program can benefit humanity, it is important to reflect on some of the successes of the Apollo program.

The Apollo space program has benefited mankind in a variety of ways, including increased technological capabilities for space technology, increased knowledge of the moon, and the introduction of new ways to explore the Moon and Earth. The program has pioneered an assortment of new technologies which, although conceived as space technologies, have been adapted into products applicable to Earth. One of the most important scientific legacies of the Apollo program is that it laid the foundations of planetary science through decades of lunar exploration and sample studies. The Apollo program improved our understanding of the moon, we learned that it is 4.5 billion years old and made of materials similar to Earth.

While Apollo faced many challenges, the program inspired innovation and scientific resilience. For example, after three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 incident on January 27, 1967, NASA scrambled to learn how to make everything in the command module less flammable, including astronaut clothes. They discovered polybenzimidazole, or PBI, a heat-resistant polymer invented by Dr. Carl Shipp Marvel, a pioneer in synthetic materials. After Apollo 1, a fiber that could be woven into clothing inside the inflated outer shell of astronauts’ spacesuits was developed, providing an additional layer of protection. Fire suits containing PBI are still the main market for this heat resistant material which can withstand temperatures up to 1300 degrees.

It is therefore not difficult to imagine how humanity could benefit from the Artemis program which comes 50 years after the Apollo program, benefiting from all the technological advances in almost every aspect of space travel. As Rwanda was invited to this historic launch through the Rwandan Space Agency, it is imperative to reflect on how far Rwanda has come. From a country that has seen untold things to a country that has not only overcome them, but excelled and is ready to participate in some of the greatest space exploration initiatives.

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