Thursday, August 18, 2022

NASA's New Lunar Rocket: A Milestone in Artemis Program

11:53 PM | , ,


As NASA embarks on a new chapter in space exploration, its latest lunar rocket made its grand appearance on the launch pad this Wednesday, gearing up for its maiden flight in under a fortnight. The towering rocket, measuring 322 feet (98 meters), emerged from its colossal hangar Tuesday evening, capturing the attention of numerous Kennedy Space Center employees, many of whom were not even born when NASA first dispatched astronauts to the moon five decades ago.

The lunar rocket’s traverse to the pad, a mere four-mile journey, took close to 10 hours, coming to a halt at daybreak. NASA has pinpointed the 29th of August for the inaugural test flight to the moon.

The crew capsule, positioned atop the rocket, will be devoid of human presence for this mission. Instead, it will house three sensor-laden mannequins to record radiation and vibration metrics. The capsule is planned to orbit the moon in a remote trajectory for several weeks before making its re-entry into the Pacific. The entire journey is estimated to span six weeks.

This pioneering flight marks the commencement of NASA's Artemis program, a significant step towards lunar exploration. The space agency has outlined its ambitious roadmap, aiming for a lunar orbit flight with astronauts within two years and envisioning a manned lunar landing by 2025. This timeline is somewhat delayed compared to initial forecasts made over a decade ago when the space shuttle fleet was retired.

Prolonged delays have escalated the cost by billions of dollars. "For the first time since 1972, we're on the brink of launching a rocket intended for deep space exploration," expressed John Honeycutt, NASA's rocket program manager, recently .

NASA's newest addition, the Space Launch System (SLS) lunar rocket, albeit 41 feet (12 meters) shorter than the Saturn V rockets employed during the Apollo missions, boasts greater power. It features a central stage and two boosters, akin to those harnessed for space shuttles.

According to Bill Nelson, NASA's administrator, the rocket may appear almost vintage, echoing the Saturn V design but is a completely distinct, highly sophisticated, and advanced rocket and spacecraft. 

During the Apollo missions, 24 astronauts journeyed to the moon, with 12 reaching its surface between 1969 and 1972 [16]. Under the Artemis program, named after Apollo's mythological twin sister, the space agency envisages a more diversified team and a sustained lunar exploration effort.

Nelson emphasized the significance of this test flight, stating, "It's merely the beginning". This lunar rocket has made its third trip to the platform. A countdown test in April faced fuel leaks and other equipment issues, prompting NASA to return the rocket to the hangar for repairs. A subsequent test carried out on the pad in June yielded improved results.

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