WASHINGTON – NASA’s most powerful rocket yet is set to launch on Monday on the maiden voyage of a mission to return humans to the Moon and certainly Mars.
Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, the space program called Artemis is set to begin with the launch of the 98-meter unmanned Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at 8:33 a.m. (12:33 GMT) from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Tens of thousands line the beaches of Florida to witness the launch that took decades. This includes Vice President Kamala Harris.
Hotels around Cape Canaveral are sold out, with between 100,000 and 200,000 spectators expected at the start.
The purpose of the flight, dubbed Artemis 1, is to test the SLS and the Orion crew capsule on the rocket.
The capsule will orbit the moon to see if the ship is safe for humans in the near future. At some point, Artemis will see a woman and a black woman walking on the moon for the first time.
“This mission comes with many hopes and dreams for many people. And we are now the Artemis generation,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Saturday.
The huge orange and white rocket has been sitting atop the Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B for a week.
Its fuel tanks are expected to be filled with more than three million liters of liquid hydrogen and oxygen overnight from Sunday to Monday.
NASA said that at the start of a two-hour launch window, there’s an 80% chance that weather conditions will be acceptable for an on-time launch.
For the first time, a woman – Charlie Blackwell-Thompson – will give the last go-ahead for take-off. Women now make up 30% of control room staff; there was only one back with Apollo 11.
The cameras will capture every moment of the 42-day journey and include a selfie of the spacecraft with the Moon and Earth in the background.
The Orion capsule will orbit the moon, approach within 100 kilometers on its closest approach, then fire its engines to reach a distance of 40,000 miles, a record for a spacecraft designed to carry people.
TEMPERATURES HALF AS HOT AS THE SUN
Weather aside, any type of technical issue could delay the last-minute launch, NASA officials said, noting it was a test flight.
If the rocket cannot be launched on Monday, September 2 and 5 are entered as alternative flight dates.
One of the main objectives of the mission is to test the capsule’s heat shield, which at 16 feet in diameter is the largest ever built.
Upon returning to Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield must withstand speeds of 25,000 miles per hour and temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius). It’s half as hot as the sun.
Humans will initially be replaced by mannequins with sensors that will replace crew members and record acceleration, vibration and radiation levels.
It will use small satellites to study the lunar surface.
Complete failure would be devastating for a program that costs $4.1 billion to launch and is already years behind schedule.
LIFE ON THE MOON
“What we’re starting with Monday’s launch is not a short-term sprint, but a long-term marathon to bring the solar system and beyond into our sphere,” said Bhavya Lal, NASA associate administrator for technology, politics and strategy.
The next mission, Artemis 2, will put astronauts in orbit around the moon without landing on its surface. The crew of Artemis 3 is not expected to land on the Moon until 2025 at the earliest.
While the Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon were all white men, the Artemis program plans to include the first woman and person of color.
And since humans have already visited the moon, Artemis has another ambitious goal in mind: a possible human mission to Mars.
The Artemis program aims to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon with an orbiting space station called Gateway and a surface base.
Gateway would serve as a way station and refueling station for a trip to Mars that would take at least several months.
- Editor/ main report by AFP