Why the liftoff of Artemis I began a new era of space exploration

This is how NASA’s next-generation moon rocket took off.

The new era exploration of the space deep of the POT has started. Two hurricanes, two months and a series of technical fixes have passed since the previous 3 launch attempts of the mission were frustrated. Artemis 1 from NASA, which finally took off this morning at 3.47 Argentine time (6.47 GMT).

It was the take off most powerful space rocket in historywhich is finally on its way to the Moon for a 26-day unmanned mission.

The spacecraft, made up of the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the groundbreaking Orin capsule, lit up the night sky as it lifted off its A39 launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida for the return of the first manned deep space mission in the future, which NASA did in half a century.

All the power of the most powerful rocket ever built by man, at today’s launch of Artemis I (REUTERS / Joe Skipper)

Takeoff of Artemis 1! We rose together, back to the Moon and beyond,” NASA commentator Derrol Nail said during this morning’s launch broadcast. A few minutes later, Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson addressed his team at mission control: “This is your moment. We are all part of something incredibly special: the first launch of Artemis, the first step in returning our country to the Moon Already Mars. What they have done today will inspire generations to come.”

There are no astronauts aboard the Artemis 1 test flight. Just three dummies and they measure radiation levels and test new life-preserving systems and equipment designed for the next generation of long-duration human spaceflight. Snoopy’s stuffed toy is the weightlessness thermometer inside the capsule.

Eight minutes after liftoff this morning, the upper stage of the SLS rocket reached orbit with Orion, and the spacecraft began deploying its four solar arrays from its service module shortly after. The SLS upper stage fired its single engine to raise its orbit just under an hour after launch. It then turned back on again 98 minutes after liftoff to put Orion on a course for the Moon. While NASA hopes to succeed, the test flight nature of Artemis 1 means that something could always go wrong.

Space maneuvers captured by cameras on Artemis I (NASA)
Space maneuvers captured by cameras on Artemis I (NASA)

Artemis 1 aims to demonstrate that the SLS and Orion rocket are ready to take astronauts to the moon as part of a sustained program of lunar exploration that will eventually enable human flights to Mars. NASA wants to use the vehicles to build a Gateway space station around the moon, then send crews there to use it as a base of operations for trips to the lunar south pole and other uncharted realms.

NASA has said that the objectives of Artemis 1 are simple, but difficult. A high priority is demonstrating that Orion’s heat shield can survive the searing re-entry temperatures (up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2,800 degrees Celsius) caused by returning home from the moon at 25,000 mph (40,000 kph). NASA also wants Orion to show that it is ready to keep astronauts alive in lunar orbit. And the agency aims to successfully recover the capsule so it can be studied ahead of Artemis 2, the program’s first manned flight around the moon, which is scheduled to fly in 2024.

Then, the crewed flight of Artemis 3, which will follow in 2025, will land on the Moon, making it the first crewed lunar landing since Apollo 17 in December 1972. NASA’s Artemis program is named after Apollo’s twin sister and aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon during their first lunar landing on the Artemis 3 mission no earlier than 2025.

The flight plan during takeoff of the SLS rocket (NASA)
The flight plan during takeoff of the SLS rocket (NASA)

The SLS rockets and the Orion spacecraft are a strange mix of space history and future promise. Artemis 1 was launched from the same platform used by NASA’s Apollo 10 mission in 1969, which sent three astronauts around the moon months before the first astronaut landed on Apollo 11. The SLS rocket is powered by engines inherited from the space shuttle and solid rocket booster segments.

The 98-meter SLS rocket is slightly shorter than Apollo’s massive Saturn V rockets (110 meters), but the new vehicle is more powerful, generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, most of its solid rocket propellants. The Orion spacecraft also has advances. It is 30% larger than an Apollo capsule and is designed to carry four astronauts, compared to Apollo’s three.

The Artemis I mission has science experiments on board the Artemis 1 mission. On board the SLS rocket, 10 cubesats have been launched with Artemis 1 and will be deployed en route to the moon. Their missions vary widely, with some aimed at orbiting the moon and searching for traces of water ice, while others will test exploration technologies.

NASA seeks to prove that the Artemis I spacecraft is airworthy, ready to venture into the lunar neighborhood and return home after landing and recovery.  (POT)

NASA seeks to prove that the Artemis I spacecraft is airworthy, ready to venture into the lunar neighborhood and return home after landing and recovery. (POT)

This was the third launch attempt for Artemis 1. An initial attempt on August 29 was canceled due to a failure in the cooling process experienced by one of the rocket’s four main engines. A second attempt was also thwarted on 3 September when a hydrogen leak was detected during the rocket’s lengthy fueling process.

SLS was then returned to KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building for repair and protection from Hurricane Ian, which struck Florida’s Space Coast in late September.

Most recently, the modified target date of November 12 was pushed back to today due to Hurricane Nicole (which quickly downgraded to a tropical storm after landfall). Strong winds from the storm ripped a piece of insulating caulking away from the Orion spacecraft’s exterior, prompting Artemis mission teams to study the problem and determine if a November 16 launch was within the parameters of security.

Test in the sea with the Orion capsule (REUTERS / Mike Blake)
Test in the sea with the Orion capsule (REUTERS / Mike Blake)

Ultimately, teams at KSC quickly assessed the damage in the days following the storm and concluded that SLS and Orion were still fit for this morning’s successful launch.

Keep reading:

From nanosatellites to solar sails, experiments aboard Artemis headed for the Moon
After 50 years of waiting, Artemis prepares to conquer the Moon

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