Home / Science / News /  NASA to attempt the launch of Artemis 1 moon mission today after many delays; details here

NASA began fuelling its new moon rocket Artemis 1 which is set to attempt its third launch on Wednesday.

The 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is set to blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 1:04 a.m. EST (0604 GMT) i.e. 11.30 am IST on Wednesday to send its Orion capsule on a 25-day voyage around the moon and back without astronauts aboard.

This is the third try to put an empty capsule around the moon for the first time in 50 years.

Previous launch attempts on August 29 and September 3 were aborted because of fuel line leaks and other technical problems that NASA has since resolved, then a pair of hurricanes caused more delays. While engineers never pinpointed the cause of the escaping hydrogen, they altered the fuelling process to minimise leakage and were confident that all the plumbing in the 322-foot (98-metre) rocket would remain tight and intact.

Weather is always a factor beyond NASA's control. The latest forecast called for an 80% chance of favorable conditions during Wednesday's two-hour launch window, NASA said.

NASA added an hour to the operation to account for the slower fill-up, vital for reducing pressure on the fuel lines and keeping the seals in place. It seemed to work, with no major leakages reported during the early stages.

"So far, everything is going very smoothly," said assistant launch director Jeremy Graeber about an hour into fuelling.

The rocket was being gassed up with nearly one million gallons (3.7 million litres) of super-cold hydrogen and oxygen. After more than four hours, the core stage was fully loaded and fuelling was underway on the upper stage.

NASA expected 15,000 to jam Kennedy Space Centre for the launch in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, with thousands more lining the beaches and roads outside the gates. The space agency had two hours to get the rocket off, before standing down until Saturday.

The debut of the Space Launch System rocket, known as SLS, had three test dummies but no astronauts inside the crew capsule on top, which NASA hoped to put into lunar orbit.

This first test flight was expected to last three weeks, ending with a splashdown in the Pacific. NASA's top priority for the USD 4.1 billion mission is to verify the capsule's heat shield during re-entry, so four astronauts can strap in for the next moonshot in 2024. That would be followed by a two-person lunar landing in 2025.

NASA last sent astronauts to the moon in December 1972, closing out the Apollo programme.

Here's an overview of the Artemis program:

Artemis 1

Artemis 1 is a test flight of the 322-foot (98-meter) Space Launch System rocket and the Orion crew capsule that sits on top. Mannequins equipped with sensors will take the place of crew members on the flight, recording vibration, acceleration and radiation levels. Orion will orbit the Moon before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

Artemis 2

Planned for 2024, Artemis 2 will be a crewed flight that will orbit the Moon but not land on the surface, similar to what Apollo 8 did. The four members of the crew will be named before the end of the year. A Canadian is expected to be among them.

Artemis 3

The third Artemis mission will be the first to put astronauts on the Moon since Apollo 17 in December 1972. NASA, for the first time, will land a crewed spacecraft on the southern pole of the Moon, where water in the form of ice has been detected. Previous Moon landings took place near the equator. Artemis 3 is scheduled for 2025 but may not take place until 2026 at the earliest, according to an independent audit of the program. Starting with Artemis 3, NASA plans to launch crewed missions about once a year.

SpaceX Moon lander

NASA has selected Elon Musk's SpaceX to build the Moon lander for Artemis 3. SpaceX's Starship, which is still under development, will serve as a shuttle from the Orion crew capsule to the lunar surface and back.

Gateway space station

The Artemis program also calls for the construction of a space station called Gateway that will orbit the Moon. The launch of the first two elements -- the living quarters module and power and propulsion system -- is planned for late 2024 at the earliest by a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Orion crews would be responsible for assembly of Gateway. Astronauts would spend between 30 to 60 days in Gateway and would eventually have access to a lander that would allow them to travel to the Moon and back. Gateway would also serve as a stopping point for any future trip to Mars.

Destination Mars

The ultimate objective of the Artemis program is what NASA calls the "next giant leap -- human exploration of Mars." NASA will use knowledge gained from Artemis about next generation spacesuits, vehicles, propulsion, resupply and other areas to prepare for a trip to Mars. The goal is to learn how to maintain a human presence in deep space for a long period. Creating a "base camp" on the Moon is part of the plan with astronauts staying on the lunar surface for up to two months. While a trip to the Moon takes just a few days, a voyage to Mars would take a minimum of several months.

(With inputs from agencies)

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