Half a century after the end of the Apollo era, the American space agency NASA will launch the long-awaited Artemis program to return humans to the moon. The SLS with the Orion module will fly around the moon without a crew and, if successful, will return to Earth after 42 days.
The first date for the start of the test mission, which in case of success will be followed by trips to the moon with a crew, was planned for Monday, August 29. But technicians discovered a problem with one of the SLS’s four rocket engines, which was not cooling to the required temperature of minus 250 degrees Celsius and instead was five degrees Celsius hotter. To avoid the same mistake, NASA is preparing a modified refueling process for today’s launch. But a sensor that could have shown incorrect data could also have been responsible for the trouble, SLS project chief John Honeycutt said, adding that the engines now appear to be fine.
The ambitious plan envisages a colony on the moon
The goal of the Artemis I test mission is to fully test everything from the rocket and module, through the operation of the control center on Earth, to the effects on the future crew. NASA plans to load the systems to the maximum and, as part of the test, gain knowledge about the resistance of Orion’s heat shield. They will also try to retrieve the module after impact in the ocean. In addition to returning astronauts to the Moon, the entire Artemis program aims to establish a long-term lunar colony as a springboard for even more ambitious future flights to Mars.
The six-week test flight is risky and may be cut short if there is a partial failure, NASA warned. “We will load and test the rocket and module. We’re going to make them do things that we would never do with a crew to try to make them as safe as possible,” NASA chief Bill Nelson told the AP.
If all goes according to plan, a crewed craft could fly around the moon in 2024 with the Artemis II mission, and NASA plans to land two humans on the moon’s surface by the end of 2025 with the Artemis III mission. According to the agreement between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA, European astronauts should also participate in other missions. ESA plans to land them on the moon by the end of the decade. However, the official decision of the American agency and the result of previous missions are still awaited.
The price of the Artemis I mission exceeds four billion dollars (98.6 billion crowns). The total cost of the lunar program, which has become more expensive by billions of dollars and is delayed by several years, has so far climbed to 93 billion dollars (2.3 trillion crowns), even with the development of technologies and long testing.
At launch, attention will be focused especially on the new SLS rocket, for which NASA is considering a less technical and more interesting name in the future. At 98 meters tall, the SLS is thinner and shorter than the Saturn V rockets that carried 24 Apollo astronauts into space 50 years ago. The additional rocket engines will detach from the rocket after two minutes. Two hours after liftoff, the Orion module will detach to power the European Service Module (ESM) on its way to the Moon and back.
VIDEO: Where astronauts will land when they return to the moon
Artemis follows on from the Apollo program
The Orion module is three meters high and can accommodate four astronauts. It will be inhabited by three dummies during the Artemis I mission. One, named Commander Moonikin Campos in the public competition, represents a full human body and sits in the captain’s chair dressed in an orange overall. The other two places will be occupied by a torso made of materials that mimic the human bones, soft tissues and organs of an adult woman. The incomplete mannequins, named Zohar and Helga, will be equipped with thousands of sensors and detectors to monitor radiation levels, among other things. Zohar will also test a protective vest from Israel. Shaun the sheep, a character from the children’s animated series, will also fly on board.
Between 1969 and 1972, 12 astronauts walked on the surface of the moon as part of six Apollo missions. During these missions, humanity only explored the area around the lunar equator. For the future Artemis mission, NASA has announced 13 possible landing sites around the south pole of the Moon, where it plans to send the first woman and the first non-white person in the next generation of space explorers.
Hundreds of thousands of people often watch the launch
The launch of a rocket to the moon is an attraction for fans in Florida, with hundreds of thousands sometimes flocking to the vicinity of Cape Canaveral.
For space enthusiasts, there is limited parking near the best views of the launch pad. Hotels on the coast are booked well in advance