Artemis I will send a rocket uncrewed on a month-long trip around the moon.
The program aims to increase the participation of women in space exploration, with women making up 30% of its engineers. In addition, the Artemis I mission will carry two dummies designed to study the effects of radiation on female bodies so that NASA can learn how to better protect female astronauts.
Female astronauts are now less likely to be selected for missions than male astronauts because their bodies tend to reach NASA’s maximum allowable radiation threshold earlier. NASA expects to get the first woman of color and man to the Moon on Artemis III sometime after 2024.
As a specialist in Greek mythology, I find the name of the mission quite evocative: the Greeks and Romans associated Artemis with the moon, and she has also become an icon of modern feminists.
Artemis was the main deity of ancient Greece, who was worshiped at least at the beginning of the first millennium BC or even earlier. She was the daughter of Zeus, the chief god of the Olympians, who ruled the world from the top of Mount Olympus. She was also the twin sister of Apollo, god of the Sun and oracles.
Artemis was the virgin goddess of the wild and the hunt. Her independence and strength have long inspired women to pursue a wide variety of pursuits. For example, in a poem titled “Artemis,” author Allison Eyre Jenks writes, “I’m no longer your godmother…your cook, your bus stop, your therapist, your litter box,” emphasizing women’s freedom and autonomy. .
As the goddess of animals and wildlife, Artemis has also inspired conservation programs in which the goddess is seen as an example of a woman exercising her power by taking care of the planet.
However, although the Greek Artemis was strong and courageous, she was not always kind and caring, even towards women. Her recklessness has been used to explain the sudden death of a woman, especially during childbirth. This aspect of the goddess disappeared over time. With the rise of feminism, Artemis has become a symbol of feminine strength and self-confidence.
NASA has long named its missions after mythological characters. Since the 1950s, many rockets and launchers have been named after Greek sky deities such as Atlas and Saturn, whose Greek name is Kronos.
Atlas and Saturn were not just gods, they were Titans. In Greek mythology, the Titans represent the indomitable, primal forces of nature, and as such, they evoke the incredible immensity of space exploration. Although the Titans were known for their immense strength and power, they were also rebellious and dangerous and were eventually defeated by the Olympians, who represent civilization in Greek mythology.
After the advent of manned spaceflight, NASA began naming missions after the children of Zeus, who are associated with the sky. The Mercury program, which ran from 1958 to 1963, was named after the Roman counterpart of Hermes, the messenger god who flies between Olympus, Earth, and the underworld in his winged sandals.
Starting in 1963, the three-year Gemini program included a capsule designed for two astronauts and was named after Zeus’ twin sons—Castor and Pollux, known as the Dioscuri in Greek—who were cast back to the stars as the constellation Gemini. . They were regularly depicted with a star above their heads in Greek and Roman art.
The space shuttle program, which lasted from 1981 to 2011, moved away from mythological nicknames, and the names Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor were supposed to evoke a spirit of innovation.
With Artemis, NASA refers us to the Apollo program, which lasted from 1963 to 1972 and in 1969 sent the first people to the moon. More than 50 years later, Artemis will pick up where her twin left off with a more varied program. era of human spaceflight.
Written by Marie-Claire Beaulieu, Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Tufts University.