Nasa’s Moon mission has been authorized to launch


This flight to the Moon has been over a decade in the making

The US space agency says it is set to launch its giant new moon rocket next Monday.

Nasa officials performed a flight readiness check late Monday and concluded that there were no significant technical issues on their way.

The rocket, known as the Space Launch System, will send a capsule, called Orion, on an excursion around the Moon.

With no crew this time, the astronauts will board the craft for subsequent missions, assuming all goes according to plan.

SLS will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The vehicle was given a two-hour window on Monday to land from Earth, starting at 08:33 local time (12:33 GMT, 13:33 BST).


The Flight Readiness Review found no obvious players at this stage

It will be a key moment for Nasa, which, in December, will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the last human landing on the Moon – Apollo 17.

The agency has vowed to return with its new “Artemis program,” using technology befitting the modern age (Artemis was the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo and goddess of the Moon).

NASA sees returning to the Moon as a way to prepare to go to Mars with astronauts sometime in the 2030s or soon after.

SLS and Orion have been in development for over a decade and have cost, in any case, more than $20 billion to get to this point.

Orion has actually flown before, once, on a near-Earth test flight in 2014.

But this one used an existing commercial rocket to reach space. This upcoming flight is therefore the first full comprehensive examination of the Artemis exploration equipment.

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer

Artemis: Return to the Moon

BBC science Rebecca Morelle takes a closer look at the rockets and capsules that will carry humans back to the lunar surface for the first time in more than 50 years. (UK only)

BBC iPlayer

BBC iPlayer

Graphic SLS

Graphic SLS

The SLS and Orion rolled onto the launch pad last week. Engineering and technical staff have spent the intervening days connecting fuel, electrical and communications lines in readiness for the big countdown.

This should begin with a “call to stations” for the Artemis I launch team at 09:95 EDT on Saturday, with the operation to load the SLS with 2.7 million liters of propellants (liquid hydrogen and oxygen) beginning shortly after midnight on Monday.

NASA expects hundreds of thousands of spectators to line the beaches along the Space Coast.

This will be the most powerful rocket ever to lift off from Kennedy, producing 39.1 meganewtons (8.8 million pounds) of thrust from the pad. That’s almost 15% more than from Apollo’s Saturn V rockets and over 20% more than from the old space shuttle system.

In other words, the SLS’s engines could power the equivalent of nearly 60 supersonic Concorde planes at takeoff.

Orion will be sent on a 42-day mission to the Moon and beyond.

It is expected back on Earth for a dive in the Pacific Ocean near San Diego, California, on October 10.

Director of Traffic Charlie Blackwell-Thompson

Launch manager Charlie Blackwell-Thompson will call her team to their stations on Saturday morning

Artemis II, the first crewed mission using SLS-Orion, is targeted for 2024. Artemis III, the first landing on the lunar surface since 1972, won’t happen until late 2025.

NASA has yet to name any astronauts for those missions, but has released in recent days the locations on the lunar surface where future crews could be sent.

It has identified 13 candidate destinations. They are all within six degrees of latitude of the lunar South Pole (Apollo was largely limited to equatorial or near-equatorial landing sites).

The goal is to approach permanently shadowed areas where water ice is likely to have accumulated over billions of years.

These ices could be used for drinking water or to produce rocket fuel.

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