Thursday, August 18, 2022

ARTEMIS MISSION

NASA's new lunar rocket arrived on the launch pad Wednesday before its first flight in less than two weeks.

The 322-foot (98-meter) rocket emerged from its giant hangar Tuesday night, attracting throngs of Kennedy Space Center workers, many of whom were not yet born when NASA sent astronauts to the moon half a century ago.

The rocket took nearly 10 hours to make the four-mile journey to the pad, stopping at dawn.

NASA has set 29 August as the day for take-off for the lunar test flight.

No one will be inside the crew capsule on top of the rocket, just three mannequins swarm with sensors to measure radiation and vibration.

The capsule will fly around the moon in distant orbit for a couple of weeks before crashing back into the Pacific.

The entire flight is expected to take six weeks.

The flight is the first trip to the moon in NASA's Artemis program.

The space agency is aiming for a lunar orbit flight with astronauts in two years and a lunar landing by a human crew in 2025. It is much later than NASA predicted when it established the program more than ten years ago, when the space shuttle fleet has withdrawn.

Years of delays have added billions of dollars to the cost.

"Now, for the first time since 1972, we will launch a rocket designed for deep space," said NASA rocket program manager John Honeycutt recently.

NASA's new SLS lunar rocket, short for Space Launch System, is 41 feet (12 meters) shorter than the Saturn V rockets used during the Apollo half a century ago.

But it is more powerful, it uses a central stage and two thrusters, similar to those used for space shuttles.

"When you look at the rocket, it looks almost retro. It looks like we're looking at the Saturn V," NASA administrator Bill Nelson told reporters earlier this month.  "But it's a completely different, new, highly sophisticated and more sophisticated rocket and spacecraft."

Twenty-four astronauts flew to the moon during the Apollo, 12 of which landed there from 1969 to 1972. The space agency wants a more diverse team and a more sustained effort under the direction of Artemis, named after Apollo's mythological twin sister.

"I want to point out that this is a test flight," Nelson said. "It's only the beginning".

This was the third trip of the rocket to the platform. A countdown test in April was marred by fuel leaks and other equipment problems, forcing NASA to return the rocket to the hangar for repairs.

The general test was repeated in the pad in June, with better results.

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