Artemis I, NASA’s new mission to the moon, explained

NASA has again postponed the historic Artemis I mission to the moon after engineers discovered a leak in the rocket’s fuel system. Although the Artemis I mission won’t land on the Moon, the journey itself will be the furthest a human astronaut has ever been in space.

There are no humans on NASA’s epic journey, but three astronauts: Helga, Zohar, and Mounikin Campos. They are high-tech his mannequins (a term for human models used in scientific research) loaded with sensors to test how the human body would respond to space travel. Helga and Zohar are designed to measure the effects of radiation on a woman’s body in space, and Moonikin Campos sits in the captain’s seat to see just how bumpy a voyage to the moon will be for future human crews. track what These mannequins may not be particularly impressive on their own, but they could play an important role in NASA’s ambition to build a new route to the moon and eventually send astronauts to Mars. prize. These are also just one of several science experiments on board the mission to improve our understanding of space travel.

Liftoff was originally scheduled for August 29, but NASA postponed the launch after engineers encountered several problems, including a nearby thunderstorm and problems cooling one of the rocket’s engines. . NASA postponed the mission again, and he was rescheduled for Sept. 2 due to a leak in the fuel system. Now the agency says the mission could go on in late September, but could be pushed back until October.

As soon as NASA finds a solution, the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, the Space Launch System (SLS), will take off with the Orion spacecraft on its nose. Once the vehicle leaves orbit, Orion will pass the Moon and travel thousands of miles before turning and returning to Earth. This is her journey of 1.3 million miles lasting 42 days. You can watch the launch here.

“This is a great example of how a rocket works as intended,” Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force Advanced Aerospace School, told Recode. “NASA can feel a little more confident about the manned missions that are slated for the next few years.”

Artemis is the next generation lunar mission. It’s part of NASA’s broader lunar exploration ambitions, including astronaut treks across the moon’s surface, human settlements on the moon, and a new space station called Gateway. Artemis 1 also lays the groundwork for his next two missions in the Artemis program. Artemis 2 is scheduled to send humans on a similar trip around the Moon in 2024. Artemis 3 makes history by landing the first woman and person of color. It will reach the moon as early as 2025. All research being done on Artemis I, including Helga, Zohar, and Munikin Campos, is to prepare for later missions.

All members aboard Artemis 1

NASA’s lunar vehicle, SLS, was designed to carry very heavy payloads. The rocket is just meters taller than the Statue of Liberty and can produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust. Like any launch system, the SLS consists of several different stages, each responsible for overcoming Earth’s gravity, breaking through the atmosphere, and reaching outer space. To accomplish this, the SLS includes two solid rocket boosters and a 212-foot-tall core stage filled with over 700,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen. This is the largest core stage NASA has ever built.

A view of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft as seen from the Rocco A. Petrone Launch Control Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Joel Kowski/NASA via Getty Images

After takeoff, the booster will fire for approximately two minutes before separating from the vehicle, falling toward the ground, and landing in the Atlantic Ocean. After 8 minutes, the core stage behaves similarly. At that point, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Phase (ICPS) will take over and orbit her once around the Earth. About 90 minutes into flight, the ICPS gives Orion a “big push” and begins flying toward the Moon, then falling.

Although technically new, SLS is based on old technology. Some of the components, including the main engine, are from or based on systems used in the NASA Space Shuttle program, which ended in 2011. SLS he flies only once. This is the difference between SLS and Starship, the super-heavy rocket SpaceX is designing for lunar missions. SpaceX, which beat out Blue Origin for his $2.9 billion contract to build NASA’s lunar landing system, expects Starship’s first orbital test flight to take place within the next six months. Congress’ decision to fund the SLS has hit the space industry as the project has overshot its budget by billions of dollars and has been repeatedly delayed, and private companies are now developing cheaper alternatives. It’s still a problem inside.

“As the SLS continued to pour money and jobs into key congressional districts, Congress put up with budget overruns ahead of schedule,” explains Whitman Cobb.

Widespread support for Orion, specially designed by NASA for the Artemis mission, and the possibility of travel to nearby asteroids and Mars. The spacecraft was manufactured by Lockheed Martin and from the outside it looks like a giant turkey buster with wing-like panels protruding from the sides. It is where astronauts who travel to and from the space will eventually spend their time. Once the spacecraft is scrutinized for human astronauts, the crew module will include sleeping bags, an assortment of space food bars with new NASA recipes, zero gravity and an improved space toilet designed for everyone. It is expected to provide various space travel amenities, such as gender.

In this mission, the main passengers will be a collection of science experiments. One test uses NASA manikins Zohar and Helga. These mannequins are made of her 38 pieces of plastic that mimic human tissue and also contain over 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors. There are high levels of radiation in space, and there are ongoing concerns that future astronauts may face an increased risk of cancer, especially as space travel becomes longer and more ambitious. Both of these mannequins are designed with breasts and uterus because women tend to be more sensitive to radiation. Zohar also wears a special protective vest called AstroRed. Engineers are evaluating this as a potential way to protect astronauts from radiation, including during solar flares. Helga won’t receive a vest, allowing NASA to investigate just how useful her AstroRed really was.

Orion is also conducting experiments to test how yeast respond to radiation. The researchers plan to keep the freeze-dried yeast under the Orion crew member’s seat, and he will expose the yeast to the liquid over three days in space. Once Orion lands on Earth, scientists will analyze the yeast’s DNA to find out how it worked. The experiment could provide insight into how humans stay healthy in space during future travels.

A version of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is also coming. NASA is testing Callisto, a customized hardware and software combination designed by Amazon, Cisco and Lockheed Martin to communicate with astronauts. In this test, Mission Control will be able to send audio and video messages to a tablet aboard the Orion capsule, and a version of Alexa will receive the messages and share the responses. Although the technology may sound like HAL 2001: A Space Odysseyengineers say the system is meant to provide support and companionship.

“Callisto is a standalone payload aboard the Orion spacecraft and cannot control flight controls or other mission-critical systems,” said Justin Nikolaus, Principal Alexa Experience Designer at Amazon.

Other aspects of Artemis I’s payload are more sentimental. A plush version of Shaun the Sheep from the Wallace and Gromit series travels through Orion. Snoopy doll in an astronaut costume and the nib that Charles M. Schultz used to draw the Peanuts series are wrapped in her strip of comics. Memorabilia from the 1960s Apollo 11 mission, which put humans on the moon for the first time, will also be on display, along with small samples of moon dust and engine debris.

over the moon

Some of Artemis I’s most important research projects never return to Earth. The mission includes plans to launch 10 of his small satellites, called CubeSats, into lunar orbit. These satellites collect data that NASA and private companies can ultimately use on and around the moon.

One of the satellites, LunIR, uses thermal imagery to study the safety of the moon’s surface, producing information that can influence where astronauts end up. One satellite, called the Lunar IceCube, will attempt to detect water sources on the moon that NASA can eventually use as a resource. Another satellite, NEA Scout, heads for a nearby small asteroid. This is a side trip that could inform future manned missions to other asteroids. Satellites are launched by another component called the Orion Stage Adapter only after the spacecraft has left a safe distance.

The Orion spacecraft aboard a NASA aircraft on the runway of the launch and landing facility operated by Space Florida at Kennedy Space Center on November 21, 2019.
Courtesy of NASA

These satellites are a reminder that NASA cares about more than just visiting the moon. The Artemis program lays the groundwork for an unprecedented level of activity on the lunar surface, including a human base camp, a series of nuclear reactors, and mining operations. NASA has explicitly stated that it wants to develop a lunar economy, and the space agency also established the Artemis Accords, a set of principles for exploring the moon, now with more than 20 countries participating.

Ultimately, NASA plans to turn the moon into a pit stop for a far more ambitious journey: a manned mission to Mars. At the moment, it looks like it could happen in the late 2030s. But while many of these plans are still a long way off, it’s clear that the Artemis program is more than just an iteration of the Apollo program.

“Apollo was a political act to show the world the national power of the United States in the context of the Cold War. It was clearly the first race to the moon with the Soviet Union. There is no longer any reason to do so,” explains John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “Artemis is intended as the first program in a long-term program of human exploration.”

All of this, of course, depends on the Artemis I mission going smoothly. NASA needs to evaluate how SLS and Orion will work together during liftoff. The space agency also needs to study how long Orion can survive as it descends through the atmosphere, which we won’t know for a while. If all goes well, the Orion capsule, along with a payload containing various scientific experiments and intergalactic contraptions, will take him over a month to return to Earth and land in the Pacific Ocean.

Update, August 31st at 11:20am ET: This article was originally published on August 27th. Updated with details about NASA’s changes to the Artemis 1 launch schedule and more information about the Callisto payload.

Update, September 3, 3:52 PM ET: This article has been updated with additional details regarding NASA’s decision to delay the launch of Artemis 1 for the second time.

UPDATE September 9th at 3:45 PM ET: Please note that this story has been updated and Artemis launch may not take place until late September or early October.

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