CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (WHNT) – For over a decade NASA has been developing a rocket to take humans back to the moon and later on to Mars, the Space Launch System (SLS).

The Artemis program was ready to take the next step, to become one step closer to putting the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. Artemis I will be an unmanned 42-day mission to test all systems of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft before launching with a crew.

But what does that mean?

THE PROGRAM

NASA chose the name Artemis for the agency’s return to the moon due to the fact that in Greek mythology Artemis is the goddess of the moon and Apollo’s sister.

THE ROCKET

The SLS took the best of the Saturn V rocket created for the Apollo program and the best of the Space Shuttle to make NASA’s new mega moon rocket.

It consists of five main parts:

  • Core Stage – Holds the flight computers as well as the two fuel tanks for liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen which will power the RS-25 engines
  • 4 RS-25 engines – The same engines used on the Space Shuttle. The four engines are capable of producing over 2 million pounds of thrust and will fire for eight and a half minutes
  • 2 Solid Rocket Boosters – Same boosters that were used on the Space Shuttle with more thrust capabilities. Fueled by solid propellant they will sit on each side of the core stage and produce almost 3.5 million pounds of thrust for about a minute
  • Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) – Fueled by liquid oxygen and nitrogen, will send the crew capsule out of Earth orbit and towards the moon
  • Orion Spacecraft – Capable of holding four astronauts the capsule has a 16.5-foot ablative heat shield similar to the Apollo capsule. Will send crews to space and return them safely

The rocket stands at 322 feet tall with the ability to be upgraded as mission requirements change.

THE LAUNCH

NASA has set the earliest launch attempt at 7:33 a.m. CDT on August 29.

On August 18, the rocket will leave the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and make the four-mile journey to Launch Pad 39B traveling at just one mile per hour. Once there, the rocket will take about 10 days to be ready for launch.

On launch day, NASA teams will follow a timeline, making sure to hit major milestones and that conditions remain safe. The countdown starts almost two days before launch, fuel starts flowing into the rocket eight hours and 40 minutes before, and 15 minutes before liftoff the Launch Director will ask their team if systems are “go” for launch.

A lot happens with 10 minutes of the countdown. The RS-25 engines start 6.36 seconds before liftoff, when the countdown hits zero the solid rocket boosters ignite and then away Artemis I goes.

If there is no launch on Aug. 29, the next attempts will be on Sept. 2 and 5.

THE MISSION

Soon after the SLS leaves the launch pad the rocket will start dropping parts as fuel is used up. The two Solid Rocket Boosters will fall away about two minutes after launch to land in the Atlantic Ocean while the core stage will separate about eight and a half minutes after launch to fall in the Pacific Ocean.

The ICPS will cruise for about two hours and get the Orion spacecraft on its way to the moon. It will take Orion several days to reach the moon but once there will stay in a high orbit for two weeks.

While orbiting around the moon NASA has several goals they plan to accomplish while in space, including making sure the spacecraft works as it should, testing radiation conditions inside the capsule and testing communications between Earth and Orion.

As part of the mission, 10 tiny satellites known as CubeSats, will be released on the way to the moon. Each CubeSat is about the size of a cereal box and weighs less than 30 pounds and all have a different scientific mission.

COMING HOME

An Orion test capsule is pulled into the well deck of the USS John P. Murtha during a recovery test in 2018.

Of everything launched at the start of the mission, the only thing that will return at the end will be the Orion capsule.

20 minutes before Orion enters the Earth’s atmosphere it will detach from the Service Module and angle itself with the heat shield facing the Earth. During reentry, the capsule will reach speeds around 25,000 miles per hour and through a series of parachutes will slow enough so when landing off the coast of California it will hit the Pacific Ocean at a nice soft 20 mph.

Crews will be standing by in the water, on boats, helicopters and Navy ships ready to get to the capsule as soon as it lands.


NASA Chief Astronaut Reid Wiseman said there are 42 active astronauts and 10 astronaut candidates who have the potential to step foot on the moon. He added there could be an Artemis II crew announcement by the end of 2022.