Artemis-I: NASA has its eyes on the Moon as it prepares for future missions to Mars

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NASA’s Artemis-I mission has set a trio of possible dates for the space agency’s first official launch to the Moon in 50 years. The first possible launch window arrives on August 29, just six weeks away, with the second and third windows opening on September 2 and 5. The first step in an effort to get humans back to the Moon and eventually Mars, this launch of the Artemis mission represents the first of many “small steps” toward achieving those goals.

THREE LAUNCH WINDOWS FOR ARTEMIS-I

During a July 20 media conference call, NASA officials Jim Free, Mike Sarafin, and Cliff Lanham provided a number of details about Artemis-I’s maiden voyage.

“We have reserved spaces on the beach for August 29, September 2 and September 5,” said Free, associate administrator, Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will take the agency pledge during the Flight Readiness Review, just over a week before launch, but those are the dates the team is working on.”

The August 29 and September 2 windows last about 2 hours each, with the September 5 window lasting about 90 minutes. NASA officials also explained that an August launch would result in an October 10 splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, while subsequent September dates would similarly end on October 11 or October 17, respectively.

“We have a cutoff for the eclipse from August 30 to September 1,” Sarafin, Artemis mission manager, NASA Headquarters, said, explaining the small gap in launch windows. “This is a three-day period where, due to the alignment of the Sun and Earth as Orion heads outward on course, it will be unable to generate power because the spacecraft would be in the shadow of the Earth.”

Regardless of when the mission launches, it will hurtle into space aboard NASA’s brand new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which has yet to be tested. 15% more powerful than the largest Apollo-era rockets, the SLS will carry its European Service Module and Orion spacecraft over 200,000 miles of virtually empty space before entering the Moon’s orbit . At its closest, the capsule and the flight module will arrive within 62 miles of the lunar surface.

“Since arriving at the Vehicle Assembly Building on July 2, our teams have been hard at work preparing the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis-1 launch,” said Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager. of the Exploration Ground Systems program. “This included repairing the source of a hydrogen leak identified by engineers during the final wetsuit rehearsal.”

Key stages of the ARTEMIS-I mission. Image credit: NASA

Testing and evaluations of key systems

Although a ceremonial milestone nearly 50 years to the day since the last Apollo mission flew, the Artemis-I mission has a number of tests and goals it hopes to accomplish at the during the three-week trip.

“Validating Orion’s heat shield is our primary focus – it’s a critical activity that we believe is needed before flying the crew on Orion on the very next mission. [Artemis-2]”, Sarafin said. “When Orion returns from the Moon, it will be traveling at approximately 24,500 miles per hour or Mach 32, and it will experience temperatures as hot as the Sun outside the heat shield.”

Instead of human crew members, this pioneering flight will carry three mannequins. Named ‘Helga’, ‘Zohar’ and ‘Moonikin Campos’, the trio is designed to collect radiation levels and other data throughout the flight.

Mission specialists will also evaluate the performance of the spacecraft’s solar panels, its durability when passing through high-radiation areas, and the navigation system. The team will also see how some recent repairs that have been made to the spacecraft, including the large hydrogen leak noted by Lanham that caused a major delay, hold up under real-world launch conditions.

ONE SMALL STEP FOR ARTEMIS-I

“Today’s anniversary reminds us of what a privilege it is to be part of a mission like this,” Sarafin said. “It’s not just the Artemis-1 mission. It’s the bigger picture of returning to the Moon and preparing to go to Mars that we try to keep in mind in our daily work.


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The three NASA members warned that delays and new dates are always part of their company’s process, and even those three dates aren’t set in stone. However, all seemed equally optimistic they would have a better chance of sending Artemis into space on one of the selected dates.

“We believe we are on the right track to achieve [launch] attempts on those days,” Free said.

The veteran NASA administrator also noted that astronauts often tell their families coming to see the launch that they should just plan a week-long vacation in South Florida, and if they’re lucky, they “could see a launch there too”.

Sarafin was a bit more optimistic, exclaiming, “Launch day will be here before we know it!”

Follow and connect with author Christopher Plain on Twitter @plain-fiction

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