50 years after Apollo, NASA is sending a rocket to Earth’s satellite next week as part of a test run. This was the beginning of man’s return to the moon.
On Monday, 50 years after the last moon landing, a rocket launched to the still-mysterious moon. The first flight of the Artemis mission takes place without a crew – but the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket should be a precursor to a manned return to the moon.
Artemis 1 is also very symbolic for NASA, which has been preparing the mission for more than ten years. It is intended to demonstrate that the US space agency is still competitive against the ambitions of China or Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Hotels in the area are fully booked
The launch event from the Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida is eagerly awaited. Hotels in the area are fully booked, with between 100,000 and 200,000 people expected to witness the spectacle at 8.33am local time (2.33pm CEST) on Monday. The 98-meter-tall orange-and-white shuttle has been ready for days at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39B. “The excitement is palpable,” says Janet Petro, the center’s director.
Artemis 1’s mission was to test the SLS rocket and the Orion capsule at its tip, which the crew would later travel under real-world conditions. Instead of astronauts, only dummies are on board this time, whose sensors record acceleration, vibration and radiation values. Cameras record the 42-day journey. A fake selfie is planned with the Earth and Moon in the background.
A distant view of the moon
The Orion capsule was designed to orbit the moon, come within a hundred kilometers of it, and fire its engines to travel 40,000 miles behind the moon — a feat for a spacecraft designed to carry humans.
After all, the heat shield must be tested, which can withstand speeds nearly 40,000 kilometers faster than the surface of the Sun and temperatures half as hot as it returns to Earth’s atmosphere.
Thousands of people from America and Europe have prepared for the mission. For example, the European Space Agency ESA contributed to the ESM service module, which supplies electricity, water and oxygen to the Orion capsule.
There are some risks
Even with years of preparation, there is no guarantee that everything will go smoothly at work. “We’re doing something incredibly difficult and it involves risks,” says mission manager Mike Sarafin. Despite several previous tests, the capsule and different parts of the rocket will fly together for the first time.
NASA plans to continue the experiment even if Orion’s solar panels are not deployed as planned.
Next task in preparation
However, a complete failure would be disastrous for the program, which costs $4.1 billion per rocket launch and is already five years behind schedule. The next mission, Artemis 2, aims to put astronauts into orbit around the Moon, and the crew of Artemis 3 is scheduled to land on the Moon – in early 2025.
The last Apollo mission in 1972 was the only white man to land on the moon. For the first time, future Artemis missions will reportedly include a woman and a person of color among the astronauts.
But landing on another moon is not the only goal of Artemis. Plans include a permanent space station in lunar orbit and a base on the moon – where astronauts could one day travel further to Mars. But now the launch of Artemis 1 on Monday should work. Florida’s weather is moody this time of year—and can throw off the schedule.