NASA all set to 'create history' with Artemis moon mission, precursor to first crewed Orion mission
With the debut launch of its next-generation megarocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion crew capsule it is designed to carry, scheduled for next Monday, August 29, in Florida, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration hopes to make a significant advancement in its revived lunar ambitions.
The unmanned capsule will go around the Moon on a six-week test voyage called Artemis I when the combined SLS-Orion spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center.
Before it is certified suitable to carry passengers, the journey aims to put the SLS vehicle—which is thought to be the most complicated and potent rocketship in the world—through a rigorous stress test of its systems during an actual flight.
"This new deep space exploration system is going to take us back to the moon and to new scientific discoveries that we can't even imagine yet," said Randy Lycans, Vice President and General Manager of NASA's Enterprise Solutions.
The SLS is the largest new vertical launch system NASA has created since the Saturn V rockets used in the 1960s and 1970s for the Apollo lunar programme.
The SLS-Orion spacecraft has so far cost NASA at least $37 billion, which includes design, construction, testing, and ground facilities. Its development has taken more than ten years and has been plagued by years of delays and billion-dollar cost overruns.
The Artemis programme of NASA seeks to send astronauts back to the moon as early as 2025 and to build a permanent lunar colony as a stepping stone to even more ambitious future missions transporting people to Mars. Artemis is named after the goddess who in Greek mythology was Apollo's twin sister.
If Artemis I is successful, it could lead to the first crewed SLS-Orion mission, an out-and-back orbital voyage around the moon called Artemis II, as early as 2024, and then an Artemis III excursion to the lunar surface a year or more later.
The four primary SLS engines and its solid rocket boosters are scheduled to fire at 8:33 a.m. EDT (12:33 GMT) on Monday, barring last-minute technical issues or unfavourable weather. Should the countdown take longer than the two-hour window targeted for liftoff, NASA has set Sept. 2 and Sept. 5 as alternative launch dates.