The Artemis I mission launched in a historic leap for NASA’s lunar program

The Artemis I mission launched in a historic leap for NASA’s lunar program

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The historic Artemis I mission lifted off Wednesday morning after months of waiting. This milestone marked the beginning of a journey by an unmanned spacecraft around the Moon, paving the way for NASA to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time in half a century.

The 322-foot-tall (98-meter) Space Launch System, or SLS, fired its rocket engines at 1:47 a.m. ET. It produced up to 9 million pounds (4.1 million kilograms) of thrust to lift off the launch pad in Florida and through the night sky.

On top of the rocket was the Orion spacecraft, a teardrop-shaped capsule separated from the rocket. after reaching space. Orion is designed to carry humans, but its passengers on this test mission are of the inanimate variety, including some mannequins who will collect vital data to aid future living crews.

The SLS rocket used millions of pounds of propellant before the rocket parts broke, and Orion is now orbiting with one big engine. This engine produces two powerful burns over the next two hours put the spacecraft on the correct trajectory towards the moon. Then, about two hours after liftoff, the rocket engine is also dropped, leaving Orion to fly freely for the rest of its journey.

Orion is expected to travel about 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers), which would take it further than any other spacecraft intended for human flight. According to NASA. After orbiting the Moon, Orion makes its return trip, completing its journey in about 25.5 days. The capsule will then land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on December 11, when recovery teams will be waiting nearby to bring it to safety.

During the mission, NASA engineers closely monitor the performance of the spacecraft. The team assesses that Orion is performing as intended and will be ready to support the first crewed mission to lunar orbit, currently scheduled for 2024.

The mission also marks the debut flight of the SLS rocket as the most powerful ever to reach Earth orbit, boasting 15% more power than the Saturn V rocket that powered NASA’s 20th-century moon landing.

And this mission is only the first in what is expected to be a long series More and more difficult Artemis missions as NASA works toward its goal of establishing a permanent outpost on the Moon. Artemis II follows the same path as Artemis I, but with astronauts on board. Artemis III, scheduled for later this decade, is expected to land the first woman and man of color on the moon.

Read more: The big numbers that make the Artemis I mission a monumental feat

The mission team faced a series of setbacks ahead of Wednesday morning’s launch, including technical problems with the mega-lunar rocket and two storms that swept through the launch pad.

Fueling the SLS rocket with supercooled liquid hydrogen was a key issue that forced NASA to halt previous flight attempts, but the tanks were refilled on Tuesday. regardless of leakage issues this stopped refueling hours before launch.

To solve this problem, NASA deployed what it calls a “red crew” – a group of personnel specially trained to carry out repairs while the rocket is refueled. They tightened a few nuts and bolts to stop the fuel leaking.

“The rocket, it’s alive, it’s screeching, it’s making air-sucking noises – it’s very scary. So… my heart skipped a beat. I was nervous, but, yes, we were seen today. As we climbed the stairs. We were ready to rock and roll,” Red crew member Trent Ennis said in an interview with NASA TV after the launch.

Other NASA employees celebrated their victory in the launch pad’s firing room, where agency officials make critical decisions in the hours and moments before takeoff.

“At some point, I might be silent,” said Artemis I launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the first woman to hold such a role.

“I’ve talked a lot about appreciating the moment you’re in,” Blackwell-Thompson said to the engineers in the firing room. “We worked hard as a team. You guys have been working as a team so far. This is your moment.”

Blackwell-Thompson then announced that it was time to cut the tie in accordance with the NASA tradition where launch operators cut their business ties. Blackwell-Thompson was cut off by shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach, who told others in the room, “I’ll stay all night if I have to. It will be a pleasure for me to break the connection.”

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