NASA Continues to Deliver Bad News for Artemis, Its Mission to the Moon: Now There's a Problem With the Sun

  • NASA’s planned moon landing coincides with peak solar activity.

  • An astronaut on the lunar surface could receive a dose of radiation a thousand times higher than on Earth.

NASA continues its bad news streak with Artemis, its mission to the Moon: Now the Sun is the problem
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America's return to the Moon isn’t going smoothly. In addition to problems with the suits and spacecraft of the Artemis III mission, we now have to add the solar maximum to the scenario, which would coincide with mission's planned dates.

Artemis timelines. NASA is planning the first lunar landing of the Artemis program for 2026 and aims to to establish a continuous presence on the Moon with its partners by the 2030s.

The biggest obstacle is an expected delay in developing SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft. But even if Starship is ready in time—as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk predicts—there’s a potentially more dangerous problem.

The Moon is a hostile place. With no atmosphere or magnetic field to protect it, cosmic rays and energetic particles from the Sun constantly bombard the lunar surface.

Solar activity becomes more intense, unpredictable, and aggressive during solar maximum. High-energy particles from the Sun, traveling at nearly the speed of light, can penetrate astronauts' flesh and significantly increase the risk of cancer.

A year of intense solar activity. The Sun follows an 11-year activity cycle, and we’re moving towards a solar maximum more intense than experts expected. According to a post on by Lulu Zhao, a research scientist in space and climate science engineering at the University of Michigan, the current solar cycle will peak in 2026.

Space meteorologists predict 20 extreme solar energetic particle events in the year the Artemis III mission is scheduled to land on the Moon. During the solar event, an astronaut on the lunar surface could receive a radiation dose 1,000 times higher than on Earth, exceeding the recommended lifetime limit for a single mission.

Space weather research needs more funding. Zhao isn’t issuing this warning out of a desire for catastrophe but rather as a plea to senior officials to fund more solar storm prediction technology.

Current space weather forecasting only detects solar storms after they've occurred or less than an hour before their impact. Knowing when they’ll happen and how intense the Sun’s flares and coronal mass ejections will be could save astronauts in the Artemis program from a lifetime of illness.

Labs like the CLEAR Center at the University of Michigan are working towards that goal. They aim to revolutionize the capacity to predict solar storms using machine learning models and detailed observations of the Sun’s magnetic field from ground and space-based telescopes.

Image | NASA, SpaceX

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