NASA Launches Artemis Moon Program With Test Flight of Mighty New Rocket and Crew Capsule The rocket, nicknamed the Space Launch System (SLS,) lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, November 17th.
By Main Street Sentinel Staff
Move over, Apollo – NASA’s famed spaceflight program, which took American astronauts to the moon for the first time over 50 years ago, has some new company. NASA’s newest space program, called Artemis after the Greek god Apollo’s mythological twin sister, took flight for the first time on Wednesday, November 17th from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The launch, nicknamed Artemis I, marked the debut of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew capsule. Measuring 322 feet, the SLS is shorter than the Saturn V rockets that powered the Apollo missions, but more powerful, with 8.8 million pounds of thrust. The inaugural Artemis launches will be powered by a combination twin five-segment solid rocket boosters and four RS-25 liquid propellant engines – but the SLS is designed to be configurable, so it can evolve along with the new program’s needs.
The new Orion capsule, named after one of our sky’s brightest constellations, is bigger than the old Apollo capsules, intended to carry four astronauts instead of three. For the Artemis 1 test flight, the capsule will be unmanned, save for a few test dummies designed to measure the capsule’s ability to protect future astronauts. A full-sized dummy, equipped with vibration and acceleration sensors, will ride in the commander’s chair, while two other partial mannequins, heads and female torsos made of material simulating human tissue, will be equipped to measure the effects of cosmic radiation.
Orion’s maiden voyage is scheduled to last 25 days, ending in a Pacific splashdown, just as the Apollo 11 mission did. As part of its mission, Orion will also deploy 10 tiny satellites, each about the size of a shoebox, once it begins its journey to the moon. The capsule will also carry a few pieces of moon rock originally gathered from the lunar surface in 1969 by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, alongside a bolt from one of their rocket’s engines.
Artemis’ ultimate goal is to enable astronaut crews to spend an extended period of time on the lunar surface, at least a week in duration. But it will be years before that happens. Before anyone sets foot on the moon again, a second test flight will send four astronauts around the moon and back, perhaps within the next two years. A year after that, NASA intends to send another crew to space, with two of the astronauts touching down at the lunar south pole.
Because the Artemis capsule does not contain its own lunar lander, NASA has contracted Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide its Starship spacecraft for the next lunar landing – while two other private companies have been tapped to develop space suits. But much testing remains to be done – to this point, Starship has yet to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.