Artemis I launching tonight pushes the boundaries of space travel | Tech US News

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CAPE CANAVERAL – NASA plans to launch its massive lunar rocket Wednesday morning, ushering in a new era of lunar exploration that will eventually bring the first woman and person of color to the moon.

All rocket launches are risky, but this unmanned mission will really boost the Orion probe, which will fly a longer mission than any space shuttle or Apollo capsule and return to Earth faster and hotter, to ensure it’s safe before astronauts travel around the moon in 2024 and land. on the lunar surface in 2025.

IN DEPTH: EU returns to the Moon with Artemis 1

Because getting to the moon is not easy. It’s been 50 years since Americans walked on the moon, and no other country has left footprints on the lunar soil, although China’s space program is working toward that goal.

“You can ask all the other countries that have come back since we’ve been there how difficult it has been,” said Jim Free, NASA’s head of human deep space activities.

During a two-hour window that opens Wednesday at 12:04 a.m. CST, the Orion probe will launch on NASA’s Kennedy Space Center’s Space Launch System rocket. It is scheduled to return on December 11, landing by parachute on the coast of San Diego.

“The overall mission is risky because we’re testing this system for the first time,” Free said. “And that starts from the first time we fire the rockets until the vehicle is on the well deck and captured on the Navy ship.”

Once those engines fire Wednesday morning, Houston’s mission control will take over responsibility for Artemis I. Its team will oversee the burns on the engines that take Orion to the moon and back home. It will help to test the guidance, navigation and control system.

And its flight directors and controllers will relive a piece of history that began more than 50 years ago when Gene Kranz, Gerry Griffin and many other mission control legends guided astronauts to the moon.

“Of course, I have no personal experience with a lunar mission,” said NASA’s current chief flight officer, Emily Nelson. “So, like everyone else, I think the most exciting part of this will be those first glimpses of the Moon getting bigger and the Earth getting smaller.”

The Johnson Space Center also manages the Orion Program, meaning Houston engineers oversaw the design, development and testing of the Orion spacecraft, and is managing partnerships with commercial companies that are developing spacesuits.

Subsequent Artemis missions will use the Johnson Space Center-led Gateway, an outpost that will orbit the Moon.

And, of course, the next astronauts who walk on the moon will have been trained at Space City.

“Houston was the first word transmitted from the surface of the moon,” Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche said in a statement, “and will be the first word spoken upon our return.”

The Artemis I mission to be launched on Wednesday will not have people on board, but will have three silent VIPs. Commander Moonikin Campos, a dummy, named in a public tender, will be in the sensor-laden commander’s seat to help NASA records acceleration and vibration during flight.

Mannequin torsos named Zohar and Helga will occupy two additional seats. These women are made of materials that simulate the bones, soft tissues and organs of an adult female.

Zohar will wear a radiation shielding vest called the AstroRad. Helga won’t. This collaboration with the German Aerospace Center, the Israel Space Agency and NASA is designed to measure radiation exposure because missions to the Moon leave the Earth’s magnetic field, which protects astronauts in low Earth orbit, said Jordan Houri, a radiation specialist at StemRad, a company that partners with Lockheed Martin to develop the vests.

NASA has not yet announced who will fly on the Artemis II mission. Free said that announcement will come after Artemis I and hopefully before the end of the year.

Then, the mission in 2025, Artemis III, would bring the first woman and person of color to the Moon. Free hopes it will allow young women and girls of color to see themselves as NASA astronauts.

“NASA is the top dollar spent on education in the U.S. government,” he said, “and we’re not even part of the Department of Education.”

But before that can happen, NASA must get the Artemis I mission off the launch pad, onto the Moon, and back to Earth safely. A key goal is to test the heat shield when Orion re-enters Earth’s atmosphere “because that’s the one piece you can’t test otherwise.” said Flight Director Nelson.

Burning engines from moon orbit will also be a nail-biter because that push is essential to get the spacecraft home.

“I’m expecting we’re going to have some challenges and learn a lot on this flight because things aren’t going to go perfectly,” Nelson said. “They’re not going to go the way we expect. And that’s the exciting thing about test flights. That’s why we want to do it without people before we put people on that first manned mission.”

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