It’s a milestone in a formidable plan to launch new spacecraft, assemble a lunar space station, and bring humans back to the Moon for the first time since the end of the Apollo program, when astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt were the last to set foot on the dusty regolith moon.
Artemis 1 will mark the inaugural launch of a 32-story rocket called the Space Launch System, topped by the Orion space capsule.
The capsule will fly within 62 miles of the lunar surface while deploying small spacecraft for research on and beyond the moon.
While this first flight will be unmanned, others with astronauts will follow in the years to come, and Orion is capable of carrying humans further than any spacecraft has flown before.
Although the important Artemis 1 mission includes some research objectives, it serves as both a technology demonstration and a symbol. “For all of us who gaze at the moon dreaming of the day humanity returns to the lunar surface, we are coming back. This journey, our journey, begins with Artemis 1,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said during a a virtual press conference in early August.
The Artemis 1 launch period begins at the end of August, the NASA schedule will be from the morning of August 29, and the backup dates will be September 2 and 5.
If liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the moon flyby, reentry and crash of Orion off San Diego in October go as planned, the Artemis 2 will continue.
On a video of NASA – in English – is a good illustration of this decision.
During this first manned mission in 2024, four astronauts will perform a lunar flyby. Next is Artemis 3 in 2025 or 2026, the first moon landing since 1972, which will include the first woman to set foot on the moon.
Astronauts aboard Artemis 4 in 2027 will deliver the I-HAB module, which will become the main crew quarters aboard the Lunar Gateway station in its orbit around the moon.
The Artemis program has been running since 2017 and has cost around $40 billion so far.
Its main purpose will be to establish a sustained presence on the Moon in the form of a space station and lunar camp or colony, as part of NASA’s larger effort to prioritize human space travel.
“We are beginning a long journey of science and exploration,” Bhavya Lal, associate administrator at NASA, said at last week’s press conference. “We did our initial reconnaissance with robots and humans, and now we’re learning what we need to know so we can spend more time on the Moon and then prepare to go to Mars and beyond.”
Indeed, Artemis is part of NASA’s long-term “Moon to Mars” program, as the space agency plans to send astronauts to the Red Planet within 20 years.
“Everything we do on the lunar surface, we do to explore science, and we’re not just going to put up ‘flags and footprints’ as some call it. [Apollo]but also to test the systems that we will eventually need to reduce the risks of a human mission to Mars, ”explains Cathy Koerner, deputy associate administrator at NASA, based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
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