Final preparations are under way for the launch of NASA’s moon rocket



The Artemis 1 moon rocket and Orion spacecraft prepare at Launch Pad 39B on November 13, 2022, as the countdown continues for the third launch attempt at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  - AFP/File
The Artemis 1 moon rocket and Orion spacecraft prepare at Launch Pad 39B on November 13, 2022, as the countdown continues for the third launch attempt at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. – AFP/File

Cape Canaveral: After two failed attempts this summer, NASA was busy Monday completing final preparations for the launch of its massive new lunar rocket, now scheduled for an early Wednesday launch from Florida.

The Artemis 1 mission, a test flight without astronauts, marks the first step in the US space agency’s plan to build a permanent presence on the moon and take lessons from there to prepare for a future trip to Mars.

Named after the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, the new space program comes 50 years after humans last set foot on the soil of the moon.

The first launch of the Space Launch System rocket, the most powerful rocket ever designed by NASA, is scheduled for Wednesday at 1:04 a.m. local time (0604 GMT), with a potential launch window of two hours.

The countdown has already begun at the storied Kennedy Space Center, where the orange-and-white giant awaits its first flight.

The liftoff is scheduled less than a week after Hurricane Nicole passed, which the rocket carried outside on the launch pad.

Currently, officials are assessing the risks associated with Hurricane damage to a thin strip of tampon-like material called RTV, which surrounds the Orion crew capsule atop the rocket, and makes it more aerodynamic.

Teams are studying whether an RTV could explode during launch and pose problems.

Two backup dates are possible if needed, on the 19th and 25th of November.

But Mike Sarafin, the Artemis 1 mission officer, was optimistic Sunday night. “I feel good heading into this attempt,” he said.

far side of the moon

The weather is expected to be mild, with a 90% chance of favorable conditions during the launch window.

At the end of September, the rocket had to be wheeled back to its assembly building to shelter from another Hurricane, Ian, delaying the mission by several weeks.

Prior to these air setbacks, two launch attempts had to be canceled for technical reasons.

The first malfunction was related to a faulty sensor, and the second to a fuel leak when filling the rocket’s tanks. It operates on extremely cold, highly volatile liquid oxygen and hydrogen.

NASA has since replaced the seal and modified its procedures to avoid thermal shock as much as possible, and successfully completed a tank filling test in late September.

Those fill-ups are now scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon, at the behest of Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s first female launch manager.

About 100,000 people are expected on the coast to watch the launch, with the rocket promising to light up the night sky.

The Orion capsule will be lifted by two boosters and four powerful motors under the core stage, which will separate after only a few minutes.

After one last push from the upper stage, the capsule will be well on its way, taking several days to reach its destination.

Instead of landing on the moon, it would assume a distant orbit, venturing 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) behind Earth’s natural satellite — farther than any other habitable spacecraft to date.

Finally, Orion will embark on the return leg of its journey. When passing through the atmosphere, the capsule’s heat shield would need to withstand a temperature about half that of the sun’s surface.

If liftoff occurs on a Wednesday, the mission will take 25 1/2 days, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th.

NASA is banking on a successful mission after developing the SLS rocket for more than a decade. It will have invested more than $90 billion in its new lunar program by the end of 2025, according to a public review.

Artemis 2 will be almost a repeat of the first mission, albeit with two astronauts, in 2024.

Boots should happen on Earth during Artemis 3, no later than 2025, when the crew is slated to include the first woman and first person of color on the moon.

Then NASA wants to launch about one mission a year and build a lunar space station called Gateway. There, humanity must learn to survive in deep space and develop the technologies needed for a round trip to Mars, possibly in the late 2030s.


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