The last time an astronaut walked on the moon was nearly 50 years ago. Now, NASA has a plan to get back — and help humanity set its sights on even farther destinations in the process.

The Artemis program is the agency’s first crewed moon mission in decades. It carries some historic weight on its shoulders.

In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the moon. She also is the twin sister of Apollo, the god of the ancient Greeks and Romans after whom NASA named its first moon missions. The sister symbolism is doubly intentional: NASA expects the program to bring the first woman to the moon.

The plan is to get her there by 2024 — a date that complies with White House pressure. But budget and timing concerns have plagued the mission. Despite those challenges, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said the agency can find a way to get a mission to the moon within the deadline.

Artemis has multiple goals and a massive to-do list. NASA plans to use U.S. companies to deliver payloads to the moon’s surface in preparation for human missions. Then, it will use the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket ever made, to send the Orion spacecraft on a test mission into lunar orbit and beyond. Afterward, NASA plans to send a crew into orbit and eventually to the moon itself. There are plans for a moon-orbiting command module, the Gateway, too.

All that activity is designed to help scientists learn more about the moon, including its ­never-explored South Pole, which is thought to be home to ice deposits the agency hopes to study and eventually use.

The project focuses on lunar exploration, but it has an even larger goal. NASA aims to use the moon as a proving ground. The plan is to use the technology and science tested during Artemis to propel a future crewed mission to Mars.

It’s an intriguing prospect — but funding and timing will determine Artemis’s fate. NASA received less money than it asked for in 2020 appropriations, and it recently clashed with contractor Boeing over whether to fast-track an upper stage of the rocket that will take astronauts to the moon. As a result, it’s unclear whether Artemis will unfold according to plans.

Is the agency’s ambitious mission just a pipe dream?

You can learn more about NASA’s project — and the tech required to fulfill it — at