February 3, 2023

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To the Moon – The New York Times

Humanity took a small step towards the moon yesterday: NASA’s unmanned Orion spacecraft reached the dusty orb and plunged as much as 81 miles above the surface, part of a multi-year project, around half a century after the last visit to our next to return to heavenly neighbors.

After several delays, NASA’s Artemis program was launched last week with the launch of Artemis I, which carried Orion into the sky. So far, it hasn’t offered the same drama and romance as the original Apollo moon landings. But for the first time since astronaut Gene Cernan climbed back into his lunar module on December 14, 1972, as the last person to walk on the moon, there has been a sustained commitment to return.

“Why the moon now?” asked my colleague Kenneth Chang, who covers the space program for The Times. “There’s a lot we don’t yet know about the moon. 20 years after Apollo, everyone kind of lost interest in the moon. The moon said, ‘Oh, we’ve been there, done that, it’s just a rock, no atmosphere, it’s not that interesting.’ What changed scientifically in the ’90s was that people started thinking there might be water ice on the moon. That was a fundamental rethink.”

If there is water on the moon, you can separate hydrogen from oxygen and use it to make rocket fuel. Such a prospect would be transformative, as the Moon could be used as a base for space missions without the expense and burden of lifting heavy rocket fuel from Earth, which has six times the gravity of the Moon. “Scientifically, that’s a cool possibility,” Ken told me, “and that’s how people started getting interested in the moon again.”

In my opinion, Ken has one of the coolest jobs in journalism. He and I spoke yesterday after the Orion flyby.

Peter: Why are we going back to the moon now and why not for 50 years?

Ken: We tried it at least twice before. The return to the moon takes 10 years. Although technology has gotten better, we cannot do it quickly. Each new government wanted to put its own stamp on space policy, and that was trimmed. This is the first time the program has not been cut following two management changes. Donald Trump basically continued what was going on under Obama; He changed the original goal from Mars back to the Moon, but basically it’s still the same. And then President Biden basically didn’t change it from Trump.

Artemis I was launched on Wednesday and reached the moon this morning. This mission is intended to test this new generation of devices. How are you?

There were little glitches, like the star trackers on Orion getting confused, so NASA figured out how to work around that. There are little things like that, but that’s why they fly. If everything went perfectly, they wouldn’t have to take the test. So far, 99 percent of the time it’s going the way you envisioned it.

The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on December 11th. Until then, what is in store for this mission?

NASA officials want Orion to be in space for a period of time to ensure nothing weird happens from radiation. And the last big thing they want to test is the heat shield. They come back at very high speed and want to check if the heat shield survives re-entry.

The next mission, Artemis II, scheduled for 2024, will fly a crew of four to the moon but will not land. When you go all the way, isn’t it frustrating not to land?

Yes, but you want to make sure the life support systems are working properly. And secondly, according to the plan, the lander will not be ready by then. It’s really complicated, and you don’t want to risk your life unnecessarily.

The Artemis III mission, which will finally bring humans back to the surface, including the first woman and the first person of color, will be in, what, 2025 if everything goes perfectly? Or is that a stretch?

That’s a huge route. Outside experts say 2028 would be the earliest. It is very optimistic that they can depose Artemis II in 2024.

You studied physics at Princeton and later got a masters in physics, worked at a supercomputing center and got your doctorate, but gave up for journalism. Why?

I wasn’t a very good physicist. During grad school, I spent a summer at a San Francisco Chronicle program where graduate students worked to improve communication between scientists and journalists, and I realized that doing science was more fun than doing it.

If you could be the first journalist to fly to the moon, would you want that?

Before I. I wanted to be an astronaut at least for a while. Then I saw First Man, the film about Apollo 11 that showed what the mission was like. I reminded myself that I’m afraid of heights and claustrophobic so maybe these rockets aren’t the best thing for me.

Appropriately: “I would give it a cautiously optimistic A+,” said the Artemis mission leader about the flight so far.

Life lived: Bao Tong tried to prevent the Chinese government from cracking down on the Tiananmen Square protests and was the most senior official to be jailed over the demonstrations. He later became a critic of the Communist Party. He died at 90.

49ers win abroad: San Francisco looked like a contender in Mexico City last night as it beat the Cardinals 38-10 in front of a vociferous crowd.

Cancellation: Virginia and Virginia Tech agreed to cancel their season finale football game this weekend after three Cavalier football players were killed this month.

Victory overshadowed: England beat Iran 6:2 with an ambitious game. Some spectators were forced to tuck away flags and shirts to protest the Iranian government.

Difficult draw: USA drew 1-1 with Wales after Welsh superstar Gareth Bale scored a penalty.

Rule book: Novice fans don’t get it. Longtime fans are at odds about this. What is offside?

Line-up: Argentina play their first game against Saudi Arabia. This could be Lionel Messi’s last World Cup. Follow today’s other games and updates.

“If you look closely, you know that no two bodies move in the same way,” says Katja Heitmann, a German choreographer. For her dance project “Motus Mori” she collects the mannerisms of others – how they walk, stand, kiss or fidget.

Her archive now includes movements “donated” by more than 1,000 people, although she does not record or photograph them; Instead, a team of dancers learns the moves in private sessions, memorizes them, and incorporates them into performances. “In today’s society, we try to capture humanity in data,” said Heitmann. “But we lose something that way.”

Make this mulligatawny soup in a slow cooker with chicken thighs and tart apple.

The more you prepare now, the more you can enjoy Thursday. Here are great recipes to make ahead, including sweet potato casseroles, cookies, and desserts.

In Aesthetica, Allie Rowbottom imagines an ex-influencer who decides to undo years of cosmetic surgery.

The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee has been boycotted. Here is today’s puzzle.

Here’s today’s mini crossword and a clue: Big blue body (three letters).

And here is today’s Wordle. After that, use our bot to get better.

Thank you for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow.

Correction: Yesterday’s newsletter incorrectly stated that the Kansas City Chiefs had a total of 25 straight wins. They have 25 consecutive wins in games played during the months of November and December.

PS The word “algo language” — a fun but dystopian vocabulary meant to bypass moderation of content on TikTok — recently made its first appearance in The Times.

Here is today’s front page.

The Daily is about three major respiratory viruses.

Matthew Cullen, Lauren Hard, Lauren Jackson, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Ashley Wu have contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

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