After technical problems disrupted its first launch attempt, NASA will try again to take off its new 30-story rocket and send its unmanned test capsule to the moon on Saturday.
If the massive Space Launch System (SLS) takes off successfully, it will not only be majestic but also historic for NASA, marking the first of its Artemis program planning a return to the moon, fifty years after the last Apollo mission.
The launch is scheduled for 2:17 pm local time (1817 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a possible delay of two hours if necessary.
“Our team is ready,” said Jeremy Parsons, Deputy Director of Earth Exploration Systems at Kennedy Space Center on Friday.
“They’re getting better with every try and actually performed superbly during countdown number one to launch … I think if the weather and the hardware line up, we’ll absolutely make it.”
Although the area around the launch site will be closed to the public, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather on nearby beaches to see – and hear – the most powerful vehicle NASA has ever launched into space.
NASA’s initial launch attempt on Monday was halted after engineers detected a fuel leak and a sensor showed that one of the rocket’s four main engines was too hot.
Since then, both problems have been resolved and the weather seems to work together: the US Space Force predicts a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions at the scheduled take-off time, growing to 80% later in the launch window.
If something requires NASA to resign again on Saturday, there are backup opportunities on Monday or Tuesday. After that, the next launch window will not be before September 19, due to the position of the Moon.
The purpose of the Artemis 1 mission is to verify that the Orion capsule, which sits atop the SLS rocket, is safe for carrying astronauts in the future.
Mannequins equipped with sensors replace the astronauts on a mission and will record the levels of acceleration, vibration and radiation.
– Apollo’s twin sister –
It will take several days for the spacecraft to reach the Moon, flying approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers) in its closest approach. The capsule will turn on its engines to reach a 40,000-mile distant retrograde orbit (DRO) beyond the Moon, a record for a spacecraft classified as carrying humans.
The journey is expected to take about six weeks and one of its main goals is to test the capsule’s heat shield, which at 16 feet in diameter is the largest ever built.
Upon its return to Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield will have to withstand speeds of 25,000 miles per hour and a temperature of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius), about half that of the Sun.
Artemis takes its name from the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, from whom the first lunar missions took their name.
Unlike the Apollo missions, which only sent white men to the moon between 1969 and 1972, the Artemis missions will see the first black person and the first woman set foot on the lunar surface.
Fittingly, NASA’s first female launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, will give the final “green light” for takeoff on Saturday.
A successful Artemis 1 mission will come as a huge relief for the US space agency, after years of delays and cost overruns.
A government audit estimates that the cost of the program will grow to $ 93 billion by 2025, with each of the first four missions reaching a whopping $ 4.1 billion per launch.
The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts to the moon without landing on its surface.
The Artemis 3 crew will land on the moon at the earliest in 2025, with subsequent missions involving a lunar space station and a sustainable presence on the lunar surface.
According to NASA chief Bill Nelson, a manned trip to the red planet aboard the Orion could be attempted by the end of the 1930s, lasting several years.
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