Artemis: NASA is set to usher in a new era of lunar exploration.

The US space agency is counting down to the launch of its giant new moon rocket – the Space Launch System.

     The SLS is NASA’s most powerful vehicle to date and will form the basis of its Artemis project, which aims to return humans to the lunar surface after a 50-year absence.

     The rocket is scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on Monday at 08:33 local time (12:33 GMT; 13:33 BST).

     Its task will be to launch a test pod called Orion away from Earth.

     The spacecraft will circle the moon in a wide arc before returning home over the Pacific Ocean over a six-week period.

Everything we do with this Artemis I flight, we’re looking at it through the lens of what we can prove and what we can prove to reduce the risk to the mission of the Artemis II crew.  Ga,” said NASA astronaut Randy Bresnick.

How do you get people back to the moon?

      The US space agency has several options for launching SLS-Orion next week, but it wants to pursue that option immediately.

      The weather here in Florida is very active this time of year, with frequent thunderstorms at the spaceport.

      In fact, Pad’s utility poles have been hit several times recently.

      Conditions are usually calm in the early morning, making Monday the best day to fly.

      “Basically, at the start of the launch window or after 8:30 a.m., there’s an 80 percent chance of favorable weather,” said meteorologist Melody Lowen.

      However, if technical issues push the launch past the allotted two-hour window, the chance drops to 60 percent due to possible shower encroachment.  Rockets should not be lifted in rain.

Is Artemis the next-generation Apollo?

      When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their first steps on the moon in 1969, they ushered in the golden age of space exploration.  The Apollo program changed the way we see our planet and ourselves.  Today, after 50 years, the moon has again come into human sight.  And for those who never saw the Apollo missions themselves, I hope Artemis inspires a new generation.

      New missions will be different.  NASA plans to send the first woman and the first person of color to the moon – showing that space exploration is open to all.  And the moon’s surface is just the beginning.  NASA’s ambitions go even further and put Mars in sight.  And that would be a huge leap.

      

      More than 200,000 people are expected to line the beaches and causeways around Kennedy.  Motorhomes started getting the best positions on Sunday.

      The climb should be spectacular.

      The SLS will generate 39.1 meganewtons (8.8 million pounds) of thrust from the pad.  That’s about 15% faster than the Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s.

      In other words: the SLS’s engines can deliver about as much thrust on takeoff as sixty Concorde supersonic jets.

This rocket will be bigger, louder and more impressive than anything you’ve ever seen before,” said Lorna Kenna, vice president of Jacobs Space Operations Group, one of Kennedy’s prime contractors.

      “There’s nothing like feeling a sound—not just hearing it, but feeling it overwhelms you.”

      The main objective of the mission actually comes at the end.

      Engineers are very concerned that Orion’s heat shield will withstand the extreme temperatures it will encounter upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

      Orion will come in very fast – 38,000 km/h (24,000 mph) or 32 times the speed of sound.

      “Even the solid carbon protecting the shuttle was only rated at 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,600 degrees C),” said Mike Hughes, Orion program manager at aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

      “Now we’re approaching 4,000 degrees (over 2,200). We’ve gone back to an Apollo refined material called Avcoat. It’s in the gap-filling blocks, and testing is a high priority.

This flight is a great moment not only for NASA but also for the European Space Agency.

      It provided the service module for the Orion.  It is the posterior part that pushes the capsule into space.  It’s a rare partnership that Europe hopes will involve its citizens in future trips to the lunar surface.

      Artemis IX missions are being planned.

      By then, there should be habitats and rovers on the moon that astronauts can use.

      But ultimately, Artemis is seen as a tool to get humans to Mars.

      “The timeline was set by President Obama. He said 2033,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson recalled.

      “Every subsequent government has supported the program and the realistic timeline that I know of now is the late 2030s, maybe the 2040s.”

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