By: Alok Jha/The Economist

Photo: NASA

By the end of 2024, astronauts are due to return to the Moon for the first time in more than half a century. Well, sort of. As part of nasa’s Artemis II mission, four astronauts—Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, Christina Hammock Koch and Jeremy Hansen—will travel 7,400km beyond the Moon, swing around and return to Earth, without landing on the lunar surface. Their ten-day voyage will test the Space Launch System (sls) rocket and the Orion spacecraft for future missions. As well as being the first humans to reach the vicinity of the Moon since those of Apollo 17 in 1972, Mr Glover, Dr Koch and Mr Hansen will be the first black man, first woman and first non-American respectively to leave Earth orbit.

The earliest that Artemis II can launch is November, and it may be delayed to 2025. It will certainly be beaten to the Moon in May by the latest mission in the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme (known as Chang’e). Like Chang’e 5 before it in 2020, Chang’e 6 aims to deliver a robotic lander to the Moon’s surface, collect a few kilograms of rocks and bring them back to Earth. The target location is on the far side of the Moon and the mission will also carry instruments from France, Italy, Pakistan and Sweden.

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