– The moon in front of Mars: NASA’s new mega rocket will soon take off
The Orion capsule, which was tested without a crew, will be launched into orbit around the moon on Monday morning to verify the craft is safe for future astronauts.
A six-week mission in space, preparations for more than a decade, launched in front of tens of thousands of spectators: NASA’s new rocket, the most powerful in the world, is scheduled to take off on Monday for the first time since launch Florida, off to the moon.
Fifty years after the last Apollo flight, the Artemis 1 mission would mark the launch of America’s moon return program, which would allow humanity to reach Mars aboard the same ship.
The Orion capsule, tested here uncrewed, will be launched into orbit around the moon to verify the vehicle is safe for future astronauts – including the first woman and first person of color to walk on the lunar surface. “This mission carries with it the dreams and hopes of many people,” said NASA chief Bill Nelson. “We are now the Artemis generation.”
Launch is scheduled for 8:33 am (12:33 pm GMT, 2:33 pm Switzerland) from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center.
Kamala Harris on site
The weather is 80% favorable for a timely launch early in the two-hour launch window. The orange and white SLS rocket cannot take off from its height of 98 meters in rain or thunderstorms. Its tanks have to be filled with more than three million liters of fuel – liquid hydrogen and oxygen – overnight from Sunday to Monday.
Sign of the times, NASA’s first female launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, will finally give the green light. Women make up 30% of the workforce in the launch room – compared to just one at the time of Apollo 11.
Two minutes after launch, the boosters will fall back into the Atlantic. After eight minutes, the main stage releases again. Then, after about an hour and a half, a final boost from the upper stage will send the capsule on its way to the moon, which will take several days.
Between 100,000 and 200,000 visitors are expected to attend the show, including US Vice President Kamala Harris.
As well as the weather, technical problems could mean the launch being postponed until the last moment, NASA officials, who insist it is a test flight, have warned. The next possible start date is September 2nd.
The main objective of the mission is to test the capsule’s heat shield, which will return to Earth’s atmosphere at almost 40,000 km/h and a temperature half that of the sun’s surface.
Instead of astronauts, mannequins equipped with sensors that recorded vibration and radiation levels took their places on board. Microsatellites are also used to study the moon or even an asteroid.
On-board cameras make it possible to follow this journey of 42 days in total.
The capsule will venture as far as 64,000 km beyond the moon, further than any other habitable spacecraft to date.
A complete failure of the mission would be devastating for a rocket with a huge budget ($4.1 billion per launch, according to a public audit) and several years late (ordered by the US Congress in 2010 for a first launch date in 2017).
life on the moon
“What we are beginning with this launch on Monday is not a short-term sprint, but a long-term marathon to bring the solar system and beyond back into our sphere,” said Bhavya Lal, associate administrator at NASA.
After this first mission, Artémis 2 will take astronauts to the moon in 2024 without landing there. An honor reserved for the crew of Artemis 3 in 2025 at the earliest. NASA then wants to launch about one mission per year. The goal: to establish a permanent human presence on the moon, with the construction of a space station in orbit around it (gateway) and a base on the surface.
There, humanity must learn to live in space and test all the technologies required for a round trip to Mars. A multi-year journey that according to Bill Nelson could take place “in the late 2030s”.
But before that, the trip to the moon is also strategic, given the ambitions of competing nations, notably China. “We want to go to the South Pole, where the resources are,” specifically water in the form of ice, explained Bill Nelson on NBC. “We don’t want China to go there and say, ‘This is our territory.'”
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