The countdown clock began ticking Saturday for NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket’s inaugural launch Monday on a long-awaited mission to deliver an unpiloted Orion crew capsule around the moon and back.
At 10:23 a.m. EDT, NASA’s first female launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, summoned her crew to Firing Room 1 at the Kennedy Space Center and began the meticulously rehearsed 46-hour, 10-minute countdown.
“At the moment, we are not working on any serious difficulties,” she said at a pre-flight news conference. “So I’m delighted to say that everything is going as planned.”
If all goes as planned, engineers working remotely will begin putting 750,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel into the huge SLS rocket’s core stage at 12:18 a.m. EDT Monday, setting the scene for blastoff at 8:33 a.m., the start of a two-hour window. Weather forecasters predict a 70% likelihood of nice weather.
The unmanned 42-day test flight of NASA’s $4.1 billion SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule is a crucial step toward returning people to the moon’s surface for long-term exploration and testing equipment and procedures for possible multi-year missions to Mars.
“With the launch of Artemis 1 on Monday, NASA reaches a watershed moment, prepared to launch the most significant series of science and human exploration missions in a generation,” said Bhavya Lal, NASA assistant administrator for technology, policy, and strategy.
“We are ensuring that the agency’s human exploration architecture is based on a long-term strategic goal of persistent US presence on the moon, Mars, and throughout the solar system.”
“This is a test flight,” mission manager Mike Sarafin emphasised. We keep in mind that this is a deliberate stress test of the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket. It is a new design, a new rocket, and a new spaceship that will take humans to the moon on the very next mission.
“This has not been done in almost 50 years, and it is extremely tough.” We’ll learn a lot from the Artemis 1 test flight… We recognise there is a lot of enthusiasm about this, but the crew is laser-focused.”
The primary goals of the Artemis 1 mission are to validate the performance of the massive SLS rocket, to put the Orion crew capsule through its paces, and to safely return it to Earth, ensuring that the capsule’s 16.5-foot-wide heat shield can protect returning astronauts from the high-speed heat of re-entry.
Throughout the journey, an instrumented spacesuit mannequin named “Moonikin Campos” and two artificial female torsos will assist scientists in measuring the radiation environment of deep space, as well as the vibrations, sound levels, accelerations, temperatures, and pressures in the crew compartment.
If the voyage proves successful, NASA wants to launch four actual humans on a looping free-return route around the moon in late 2024, followed by a mission to land two astronauts near the moon’s south pole as soon as 2025.
That voyage will be heavily reliant on ongoing congressional financing, the creation of new spacesuits for the moonwalkers, and SpaceX’s work in constructing a moon lander based on the design of its futuristic Starship rocket, which has yet to fly into space.
NASA officials are enthusiastic, but it’s unclear how practical the 2025 landing objective will be.
What exactly are the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft?
A huge rocket is needed to carry men to the moon, and the Space Launch System is that rocket – the most powerful one since Saturn V flew NASA astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The one awaiting launch on Monday is 322 feet tall and weighs 5.5 million pounds when packed with propellants.
On Monday, the Space Launch System’s payload is Orion, a spacecraft built for multi-week journeys beyond low-Earth orbit. This voyage will be unmanned, although it has the capacity to transport four astronauts. If this mission is successful, a quartet of astronauts will travel on the Artemis II mission.
What takes place throughout the flight?
Following liftoff, a series of events will occur in rapid succession.
Just over two minutes after taking off, the two skinnier side boosters linked to the massive core stage of the Space Launch System will run out of solid rocket fuel and plummet into the Atlantic Ocean.
Eight minutes into flight, the four engines of the core stage will shut down. The second stage of the rocket and the Orion capsule, which will eventually transport people, will thereafter be on their own in orbit when the stage drops away.
What distinguishes Artemis 1 from previous rocket launches?
The new Space Launch System will make its debut with Artemis 1 as its launch vehicle (SLS). The Space Launch System, or SLS, is a heavy lift rocket that NASA claims is the most potent rocket engine ever launched into space, even more potent than the Apollo Saturn V system that sent people to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.
Liquid hydrogen and oxygen are used in the new SLS rocket system’s two solid rocket boosters and main engines. According to NASA, the SLS engine is a cross between the space shuttle and the Apollo Saturn V rocket.
Orion is scheduled to make a splash in the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, California.
The Artemis 2 is expected to launch in a few years and will carry astronauts. It will be similar to Apollo 8, which orbited the Moon and returned home. The Artemis 3 will be released later this decade.