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Behold Lunar Gateway, The Future Home Base For Human Moon Exploration

A smaller replica of the International Space Station, which will orbit the Moon from the end of 2024, is currently under construction at the Thales Alenia Space plants in Turin. A guided tour.

An artist's concept of a Artemis astronaut looking out across the lunar surface.

An artistic rendition of what the Artemis V Moon mission might look like, NASA, May 19, 2023.

Yann Verdo

TURIN — Let's project ourselves into the future, leaping forward, say 10 years, to the year 2033. While we’re at it, let's also leap the 384,400 kilometers separating us from the Moon, setting course for our natural satellite's South Pole.

This is where NASA and its longstanding partners — the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency — have chosen to set up the Artemis Base Camp, to take advantage of the ice lying at the bottom of the craters and the "peaks of eternal light" provided at this latitude by a Sun that never dips below the horizon.

This base camp has already been inhabited for several years: crews of two to four astronauts take turns there at regular intervals for missions lasting 30 to 60 Earth days — but it is still spartan.

Perched on the structure of the lunar lander, and itself topped by large solar panels rising vertically to capture the grazing light of the Sun, the Lunar Surface Habitat, with its 7.8-meter height and 4.4-meter diameter, offers our intrepid "moonwalkers" merely a cramped interior space and minimal comfort. The important thing is that its inflatable envelope protects them from micrometeorites and cosmic rays.

The other main features of the Artemis Base Camp are two vehicles designed for exploration. The rover (or Lunar Terrain Vehicle), which astronauts can only use for short distances when wearing their heavy spacesuits. The pressurized cabin of the Habitable Mobility Platform takes astronauts on longer journeys of up to 45 days.

Sorry, Airbus

But the few inhabitants of history's first extraterrestrial settlement would probably feel even more alone if the Lunar Gateway, a miniature replica of the International Space Station (ISS) currently orbiting the Earth, wasn't within rocket range. In a factory in Turin, Italy, scientists and engineers from the Franco-Italian company Thales Alenia Space (TAS) are hard at work building it to completion.

After having contributed massively to the construction of this giant Lego build that is the ISS — for which it also built the Columbus module, the Cupola, the ATV-refueling modules and the Cygnus cargo ships — the ESA has chosen TAS, over French company Airbus, to supply two of the four modules that will make up the Gateway.

These astronauts will circumnavigate the Moon in seven Earth days.

The Franco-Italian company is in fact the main contractor for both I-HAB and ESPRIT, which will complement, in 2028 and 2029 respectively, the first two American modules, HALO and PPE, launched in Nov. 2024 by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. "As TAS is also supplying the primary structure for HALO, whose prime contractor is Northrop Grumman, our company is involved in three of the four modules of the lunar station," notes TAS Innovation Director Roberto Provera.

A rendered image of astronauts activities on the moon during the projected Artemis mission

A render of the Artemis Base Camp in NASA’s Lunar Exploration Program Overview, September 2020.


ISS: similarities and differences compared to the Gateway

With its propulsion module (PPE) and its first habitation module, HALO, the Gateway station will be operational by the end of 2024. Four years later, with the Artemis IV mission, the first to carry a European astronaut to the Moon, I-HAB will increase the volume of habitable space on the Gateway and allow it to accommodate up to four astronauts for 90 days.

The following year, ESPRIT will provide additional fuel and telecommunications capacity. This fourth and final module will also include a pressurized section serving as a scientific airlock for the four astronauts constituting the Gateway station crew. These astronauts will circumnavigate the Moon in seven Earth days, following a highly elliptical orbit that will sometimes bring them to within 3,000 kilometers of the lunar surface, and sometimes 70,000 kilometers away.

This very particular orbit is far from being the only difference between the Gateway station and its terrestrial big sister, the ISS, which never moves more than 400 kilometers from the Earth. "While the Harmony module on the ISS, for example, is 4.4 meters in diameter, those on the Gateway will be only 3. This is the only way to reduce the mass of a module to 10 tonnes, enabling it to be launched into space by a Falcon Heavy or SLS rocket," explains Franco Fenoglio, Head of Planetary Exploration at TAS.

There's nothing to see but the inky black of space.

This reduction in scale, which transforms the layout of the habitable volume into a formidable Rubik's Cube, is not the only technical challenge facing the engineers and scientists at TAS, like those at Northrop Grumman on the other side of the Atlantic.

Sandwiched between the aluminum outer shell and the inner shell, the multi-layered intermediate material plays a crucial role to protect from the extreme temperatures of lunar orbit, from -150 °C to +150 °C, as well as micrometeorites and carcinogenic cosmic rays. Against the latter, however, this multilayer won't be enough, as cosmic rays are only stopped by hydrogen. The solution will probably be to line the inner wall with water bags — killing two birds with one stone.

A room with a view

Another technical challenge: the complex system of valves for fine-tuning the atmospheric pressure inside the station's pressurized modules, which will have to stay close to the pressure of the Earth's atmosphere, and be perfectly equal in all modules. "Otherwise, it would be impossible for astronauts to open the hatch between two modules," explains Annamaria Piras, head of low-Earth orbit programs at TAS.

Earthlings may wonder whether upcoming Gateway crews will have at least one window to contemplate the lunar landscape below them. The answer is yes, but not in the habitable modules (HALO and I-HAB) – it's too dangerous. Only ESPRIT's pressurized experiment airlock will be equipped with one. Double-glazed windows, with one wall made of glass and the other of transparent acrylic (a lighter material than glass), and retractable screens as shutters.

"This is a requirement of the astronauts. Even if there's nothing to see but the inky black of space, it reduces the feeling of entrapment. This is essential for long missions, whether it's staying around the Moon or going all the way to Mars," comments Fenoglio. The Gateway: a room with a view.

NASA\u2019s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft at Launch Pad 39B at the agency\u2019s Kennedy Space Center in Florida

NASA’s Space Launch System for Artemis 1 on its mobile launcher, getting ready for a dress rehearsal ahead of launch in Florida on March 18, 2022.

NASA / Kim Shiflett

And, closer to Earth, Axiom...

The Lunar Gateway is not the only space station being assembled in Turin. Another is the future private Axiom station, promoted by the American company Axiom Space, which has already rented it out in advance to wealthy space tourists, who will pay $55 million for a 10-day stay on board.

The Axiom station will initially be attached to the International Space Station, with the first of its four planned modules expected to launch and dock to the ISS's Harmony module in 2025.

When the ISS reaches the end of its life, around 2030, Axiom will become autonomous and detach from it. By then, a magnificent cupola, with a breathtaking view of the Earth 400 kilometers below, will have been added to the private station. The station will also welcome aboard Tom Cruise, for the filming of the next Mission Impossible.

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How Parenthood Reinvented My Sex Life — Confessions Of A Swinging Mom

Between breastfeeding, playdates, postpartum fatigue, birthday fatigues and the countless other aspects of mother- and fatherhood, a Cuban couple tries to find new ways to explore something that is often lost in the middle of the parenting storm: sex.

red tinted photo of feet on a bed

Parenting v. intimacy, a delicate balance

Silvana Heredia

HAVANA — It was Summer, 2015. Nine months later, our daughter would be born. It wasn't planned, but I was sure I wouldn't end my first pregnancy. I was 22 years old, had a degree, my dream job and my own house — something unthinkable at that age in Cuba — plus a three-year relationship, and the summer heat.

I remember those months as the most fun, crazy and experimental of my pre-motherhood life. It was the time of my first kiss with a girl, and our first threesome.

Every weekend, we went to the Cuban art factory and ended up at the CornerCafé until 7:00 a.m. That September morning, we were very drunk, and in that second-floor room of my house, it was unbearably hot. The sex was otherworldly. A few days later, the symptoms began.

She arrived when and how she wished. That's how rebellious she is.

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