Artemis Launches NASA's Mission for Return to the Moon
NASA’s Artemis program aims to usher in a new era of lunar exploration and sets the stage for future journeys to Mars.
NASA’s majestic new rocket soared into space for the first time in the early hours of Wednesday, lighting up the night sky and accelerating on a journey that will take an astronaut-less capsule around the moon and back, reports the New York Times.
"We are all part of something incredibly special," Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the launch director, said to her team at the Kennedy Space Center after the launch. "The first launch of Artemis. The first step in returning our country to the moon and on to Mars."
Excerpt from the New York Times: This flight, evoking the bygone Apollo era, is a crucial test for NASA’s Artemis program that aims to put astronauts, after five decades of loitering in low-Earth orbit, back on the moon. For NASA, the mission ushers in a new era of lunar exploration, one that seeks to unravel scientific mysteries in the shadows of craters in the polar regions, test technologies for dreamed-of journeys to Mars and spur private enterprise to chase new entrepreneurial frontiers farther out in the solar system. As China and other countries are vying to explore space, Wednesday’s launch also highlights a growing philosophical tension about how America should pursue its space aspirations. NASA has spent more than $40 billion to date to get Artemis off the ground.
According to a related story also from the New York Times, this first mission is a test flight with no crew members aboard. Eventually, though no earlier than 2025, NASA plans to send astronauts for a weeklong stay near the moon’s south pole. The crew will include the first woman and the first person of color to walk on the moon.
Excerpt from the New York Times: Instead of crew members, the first Artemis mission carries three mannequins named Helga, Zohar and Commander Moonikin Campos. Helga and Zohar contain plastic models of radiation-sensitive organs, such as the uterus and the lungs, so that scientists can study how radiation in space may affect future astronauts. The three mannequins are traveling inside a spacecraft called Orion, specially designed to protect human crew members and experiments in space. Orion launched into space atop the Space Launch System, a new rocket that stands 322 feet tall and weighs almost six million pounds. The Space Launch System used in Artemis I is one of the most powerful rockets ever developed by NASA, and can send a payload of almost 60,000 pounds to the moon.
It was a nail-biter, but NASA finally got the first rocket in its Artemis mission off the ground. The rocket lifted off at 1:47 a.m. ET, lighting up the early morning sky in Cape Canaveral, Florida, writes CBC.
"Today we got to witness the world's most powerful rocket take the Earth by its edges and shake the wicked out of it," Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin said in a post-launch briefing. "And it was quite a sight."
Excerpt from CBC: But it wasn't without its problems. After a successful fueling of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in its main rocket — which encountered issues in its first launch attempt back in August and early September — it once again encountered an issue with its liquid hydrogen, this time in its second stage, called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion System. NASA had previously encountered a liquid hydrogen leak during its first two launch attempts. It fixed the initial issue for this launch attempt. However, during the propellant load of its second stage — which takes the Orion capsule destined for the moon into its desired orbit — another leak was detected. A crew was sent to the pad — a perilous job with a rocket loaded with fuel — to fix the issue, which worked. The Space Launch System — the rocket itself — is the space agency's most powerful rocket ever built. Atop it sits the Orion spacecraft, which will one day ferry astronauts to and from the moon.