NASA’s rocket launch to the moon next week aims to close the 50-year gap | NASA
Fifty years ago this month, mission managers at the American space agency NASA gave the… last go-ahead for what would turn out to be humanity’s most recent odyssey to the moon. Few realized at the time that it would be more than half a century before NASA would be ready to return, not least Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan, whose belief when he returned to the lunar module in December 1972 was that it was “not too long in the future‘ that astronauts were back.
At 1:04 a.m. EST (6:04 a.m. GMT) Wednesday, late technical issues and despite the Florida weather gods, Artemis 1the most powerful rocket ship in history, will attempt to close that decades-long gap.
There will be no people aboard the Orion capsule during its 25-day, 1.3 million kilometer journey to the moon and back, but the success of the test mission will pave the way for a manned landing attempt within four years. Artemis 3, currently slated for 2025 but likely to be pushed back a year, will add a woman’s name to the only 12 in history — all men from the Apollo flights between 1969 and 1972 — who classify as moonwalkers.
“We’re going back to the moon after 50 years, to stay, to learn to work, to create, to develop new technologies and new systems and new spacecraft to go to Mars,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson, who the purpose of the Artemis program in an interview with News week earlier this year.
“This is a huge turn in history.”
The space agency is looking for conditions to finally come together for Wednesday’s launch after a series of delays over the summer and early fall. Attempts in August and September were demolished after engineers discovered an engine cooling problem and then were unable to repair an unrelated fuel leak.
Hopes of an early October launch were dashed when the threat of Hurricane Ian forced the space agency to roll over the gargantuan $4.1 billion Space Launch System (SLS) missile back to the safety of the hangar.
And a questionable NASA decision to expose Artemis at its Cape Canaveral, Florida launch pad in recent days amid the fury of Hurricane Nicole’s gusts of 100 mph.
That storm led to a two more days delay until Wednesday — and a thorough post-hurricane inspection by engineers at the Kennedy Space Center before it was declared fit to fly.
“If we hadn’t designed it to be there in harsh weather conditions, we would have picked the wrong launch site,” NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, Jim Free, told a news conference Friday.
Nelson, a former space shuttle astronaut, acknowledged delays as “part of space travel”.
“We’ll go when it’s done. Only then will we go, and certainly not on a test flight. [We’ll] make sure it’s all right before we put four people on top,” he said after the September scrub.
Those people will be aboard Artemis 2, a 10-day interim mission scheduled for May 2024 that will fly astronauts past the moon without landing, testing new life-sustaining systems and equipment designed for long-duration spaceflight.
The “crew” for Artemis 1 includes sensor-rigged mannequins called Helga, Zohar and Moonikin Camposwho will measure radiation levels, and a plush toy Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep as gravity detectors.
“We’ll never get to Artemis 2 if Artemis 1 isn’t successful,” Free said.
As technology has evolved, so have NASA’s reasons for wanting to be back on the lunar surface. Looking beyond the brief reconnaissance visits of the Apollo era, the agency aims to establish a long-term human presence, including the construction of a lunar base camp, as a base for manned missions to Mars by the mid-1920s.
Scientific discoveries, economic benefits, building a global alliance and inspiring a new generation of explorers are among NASA’s goals for what they call the “Artemis generation.”
NASAs Moon to Mars visionof which the Artemis program is just one part, has a broader remit to attract international and commercial partners for deep space exploration, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and a heavy Starship rocket that could be ready for its first orbital test flight. as soon as next month.
Unspoken is the desire to keep the US ahead of Russia, and especially China, in the next era of manned spaceflight.
Analysts, including: NASA’s Own Inspector Generalsee the Artemis programs $93 Billion Price Tag, including $4.1 billion for each of the initial launches, as unsustainable. They notice that it is already Billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
But some pundits see a political will in Washington DC to keep the Moon to Mars program fully funded, even if Republicans take the House and Democrats’ wallets when the final midterm election results are in.
“The coalition in support is twofold, much more tied to the interests of the voters. There is political support,” said the founder of the Room Policy Institute at George Washington University, John Logsdon.
“[But] so many things have to happen before the first Mars landing mission is feasible that you can only say: if everything goes according to plan, we will send people to Mars.’
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