The Artemis missions will benefit our health and the environment here on Earth, says Helen Sharman, the first British person to travel into space.
The first stage of the programme is due to begin tonight and will see an uncrewed rocket take off for the Moon from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The missions have been designed to build a community on the Moon which Nasa says will “drive a new lunar economy and inspire a new generation”.
Dr Sharman, who went into space in 1991, is excited about the new frontier of space exploration, but acknowledges that it is more important than ever to justify the heavy price tag these missions carry.
The Artemis mission is expected to cost $93bn (£80bn) in total, paid for by US taxpayers.
She predicts that the mission will not only stretch our understanding of the universe but teach us valuable lessons that will transform protection of the Earth’s environment and improve the health of its citizens.
“Sending people to the Moon means we’ve got to invest in radiation protection,” Dr Sharman says. “This gives us an understanding of how we might protect people on Earth who are undergoing cancer treatment. And it may help us to deal with a radiation incident on Earth, be it intended, say in warfare, or an accident such as Fukushima.”
The lessons learned could also help us deal with the next big solar storm, she says, a rare but potentially very dangerous cosmic event that is predicted to occur at some point in the next few decades.
The last major solar storm on Earth was in 1989, which knocked out the electricity supply in Quebec and plunged several million Canadians into darkness for nine hours.
“These days everything is based on an electronic system from our banking and finance industries to our satellites and communications and even our food supplies,” Dr Sharman says.
“AI, robotics, automation, miniaturisation and sensors came out of the Apollo missions – and more will come out of Artemis.
“On the Moon we can learn about energy storage; batteries, solar power, converting light into electrical energy and how we can do that efficiently and store it. Then we can make use of it on Earth.
“We can also learn about recycling and waste management, CO2 removal (to convert into oxygen), sustainable energy. All of that is going to directly help our environmental control on the Earth’s surface.”
Other innovations spawned by the Apollo missions include water purification systems, breathing masks used by firefighters around the world, polymer clothing fabrics and cordless devices.
These kind of innovations can improve our lifestyles and, in turn, our health, Dr Sharman says.
“If you were to give that money directly to charity they could get a load of people off the streets tonight. But if we only fund the immediate, what we want for today, then we won’t have any investment for tomorrow and the future,” she says.