NASA hopes to send the most powerful rocket it has ever built toward the moon on Monday. The space agency calls this a “giant step” toward putting people back on the moon’s surface for the first time in 50 years.
NASA is launching its most powerful rocket
But engineers had to deal with a number of problems. During early morning tanking, launch staff found a hydrogen leak, which was later fixed. Since then, they’ve had to figure out why one of the core-stage engines wouldn’t heat up to the right temperature for launch. Finally, a crack was found in the core stage. It wasn’t clear right away if these problems could be fixed in time to meet the launch window, which opens at 8:33 a.m. ET and lasts for two hours.
The 30-story-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, topped by an unmanned Orion spacecraft, was rolled out earlier this month to the same historic launch complex used by the powerful Saturn V during the Apollo moonshots that ended in 1972.
This is the first mission of Artemis, which is named after Apollo’s twin sister. It is a test run of the equipment that will be needed to go back to the moon for longer stays and more science.
Nicole Mann, a NASA astronaut, told NPR’s All Things Considered, “It is a huge step forward for all of humanity.” This time, we’re going to stay on the moon. And it really is the foundation for our trips to Mars. ”
The Artemis program, which is expected to cost $93 billion in total, will change NASA’s long-term goals for human space travel. This will make it possible to build a manned base near the south pole of the moon and send people to Mars.
But the first Artemis mission won’t include a key part of the program: the vehicle that will actually land. SpaceX, which is run by Elon Musk, has been hired to build a version of its Starship that can take astronauts to the surface of the moon. The vehicle hasn’t been tried out in space yet. The Gateway, which is part of the original Artemis program and is a sort of stopover for astronauts on their way to and from a future moon base, is still being worked on.
It’s a new mission that looks like it’s from the past.
The SLS has stretched-out versions of the solid-rocket boosters used by the space shuttle, which hasn’t flown in more than a decade. It also has four RS-25 engines that were used on shuttle missions and have been fixed up and are being used again. The engine that will power the rocket’s upper stage was first made in the late 1950s.
Boeing is in charge of building the core stage and upper stage of the SLS. Noelle Zietsman, who is the chief engineer for the SLS program at Boeing, says that when building the big rocket, engineers used the “foundations and fundamentals” of the Saturn V and the space shuttle.
“Right now, we’re focused on our missions to the moon,” she says. But [the SLS] is for going to deep space. So, the capability is much bigger than just landing on the moon. “
Cone-shaped Orion spacecraft
In the future, the cone-shaped Orion spacecraft will send up to four astronauts into lunar orbit. It looks like the “command module” from the Apollo era. Lastly, a European service module will be attached to Orion. It will be similar to Apollo’s service module in how it works, and it will give future crews propulsion, electricity, water, oxygen, and climate control.
Bill Nelson, who is in charge of NASA, said earlier this month, “When you look at the rocket, it almost looks old.” “But this is a completely different, brand new rocket and spacecraft that is much smarter and more complex.”
During the six-week Artemis I test flight, Orion will go into what is called a “distant retrograde orbit.” This is an oblong path that will take it just 62 miles from the moon’s surface at one point and far past it at another.
Mike Hawes, the Orion program manager at Lockheed Martin, which is building the capsule, says that some life support systems, crew support items, and a docking system won’t be needed on the first flight.
Instead, three dummies with sensors for radiation and vibration will sit in their place. “As we get ready to send people to the moon, it’s very important that we get the radiation profile and spend a long time in this unique lunar orbit,” Hawes says.
In 2024, NASA plans to send four astronauts on Artemis II. In 2025, Artemis III will be the first spacecraft to land as part of the program. The programme will eventually send the first woman and the first person of colour to the moon, according to the space agency. But Artemis and its predecessor, Constellation, have been plagued for years by delays and rising costs. NASA’s Inspector General said in a report released last year that the first Artemis moon landing would take “several years” longer than planned.
After launch, Artemis I will go into low-Earth orbit, where Orion’s service module will spread out its solar panels before boosting itself into a higher orbit to get ready for a four-day trip to lunar orbit.
Artemis might be important for getting to Mars.
NASA hopes that on a future landing, they will be able to mine water ice that has been found deep in polar craters that never see sunlight. This is an important resource that can be used for drinking, making oxygen that people can breathe, and making rocket fuel in the future. A base on the moon could be a great way to get people to Mars. The moon’s low gravity would make it easier to send people to Mars.
NASA just said that 13 sites near the south pole of the moon could be used for the Artemis III surface mission in a few years. These spots were chosen because they are easy to land on, get enough sunlight so that a spacecraft can get power from the sun, and might have ice deposits that are always in the shade.
Lunar Science & Exploration
David Kring, a lunar geologist at the Center for Lunar Science & Exploration in Houston, Texas, says, “The lunar south pole is a geologically unique place.” “We will learn so much about how the moon has changed over time.”
“When we know more about how the moon changes over time, we’ll know more about how the Earth changes over time,” he says.
A mission to the poles, on the other hand, will be different. It is different from Apollo, which put a dozen astronauts at sites all closer to the middle of the moon.
Keck Institute for Space Studies
Bethany Ehlmann, associate director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology, says that the south looks a little more interesting because the sun is so low.
Ehlmann is in charge of the team working on Lunar Trailblazer, a robotic mission that will take place next year and make detailed maps of those permanently shadowed crater areas that might have ice.
“The terrain is the same” at the south pole as it was at the Apollo landing sites closer to the equator, she says. “And landing systems are better now than they were in the 1970s,” he added.
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