NASA is counting down to the unpaid Artemis 1 test flight, which lays the groundwork for humanity’s return to the moon.
“We’re going to launch, which is absolutely fantastic,” Robert Cabana, a NASA associate, told reporters at a news conference Monday night. “This day is long overdue.”
If the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket successfully launches, launches the Orion spacecraft around the moon, and the spacecraft survives the fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere, NASA could be well on its way to boots on the lunar surface in 2025 – the first human landing on the moon since 1972. Eventually, NASA plans to build a permanent base on the moon and mine resources there, before sending astronauts to Mars.
The rocket sits on Launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center after it was launched last week. Space agency officials say liftoff is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 29, during a two-hour window that opens at 8:33 a.m. ET.
Watch the launch live on NASA’s broadcast below, starting when technicians begin filling the rocket with fuel at midnight. NASA plans to continue broadcasting until about 5:30 p.m., when the Orion spacecraft is scheduled to transmit its first images of Earth.
Two backup windows are also available on September 2nd and September 5th should any last minute technical issues or weather delays occur. More than 100,000 visitors are expected to gather near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to watch the inaugural launch.
In an effort to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972, NASA has spent 17 years and an estimated $50 billion developing the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, according to The Planetary Society.
The bright new SLS rocket is taller than the Statue of Liberty, at 23 stories, with the spacecraft secured on top. Four car-sized engines and two rocket boosters should give it enough thrust to get through the thickest parts of the atmosphere. If all goes well, Orion will have a total distance of about 1.3 million miles in 42 days. It will zip up to 60 miles above the moon’s surface, allowing lunar gravity to take it 40,000 miles from the moon before heading back to Earth for a dive into the Pacific Ocean in October.
Scientists will assess how future astronauts will experience the stresses of space by measuring how much cosmic radiation the mannequins in the Orion capsule withstood during the test flight. The mission will also launch several CubeSats, or tiny satellites, with scientific missions.
But NASA’s main goal with Artemis I is to test every function of the launch and spaceflight system — including Orion’s communications and navigation systems and its heat shield, which must withstand a fiery plunge through Earth’s atmosphere with speed of 25,000 miles per hour in temperatures reaching 5,000 degrees. Fahrenheit — before risking human lives on future missions.
If the uncrewed Orion spacecraft orbits the moon and returns without problems, the Artemis II mission will carry astronauts through a similar roundabout. The Artemis III mission aims to put humans on the moon in 2025.
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