NASA is trying for the 3rd time to launch its mega rocket to the Moon

Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, this unmanned test flight, which will lift off tonight and circle the Moon without landing, should confirm that the vehicle is safe for a future crew.

Third test of NASA’s new mega-rocket: launch of the Artemis 1 mission is scheduled for the night between Tuesday, November 15 and Wednesday, November 16 from Florida, and this time all lights seem to be green to finally start the big program American back on the moon.

The maiden flight of the SLS rocket, the most powerful in the world, is scheduled for Wednesday at 01:04 local time (6:04 Paris time), with a possible launch window of two hours. The chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch was lowered slightly from 90% to 80% on Tuesday. As expected, NASA’s first female launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, gave the go-ahead Tuesday afternoon to begin complex fuel operations at the Kennedy Space Center.

“Our Time Is Coming”

Our time will come and we hope it is Wednesday“, declared Mike Sarafin, in charge of the mission, on Monday evening. He praisedenduranceof his team, which had to bounce back after two failed starting attempts this summer, then two hurricanes.

Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, this unmanned test flight, which will circle the Moon without landing there, should confirm that the vehicle is safe for a future crew. This same rocket will take the first woman and the first person of color to the Moon in the future. Despite a night launch on Wednesday, around 100,000 people are expected to admire the show, especially from the surrounding beaches.

I was too small for the Apollo missions, so I wanted to come see the next moon lift in personAndrew Trombley, 49, told AFP at Cocoa Beach. This engineer had already traveled from Missouri for the first two attempts. “I can’t wait to see her goHe said with a Star Wars t-shirt.

It is part of America, it is its essence” Said Kerry Warner, a 59-year-old Florida resident. The complex refueling operations are set to begin Tuesday afternoon at the Kennedy Space Center under the orders of Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s first female launch director. The rocket’s orange main stage will be filled with no less than 2.7 million liters of liquid oxygen and hydrogen.

The program is several years behind schedule

This summer, a hydrogen leak at the last minute caused the second launch attempt to be cancelled. The procedures have since been modified and successfully verified in a test. The first cancellation was due to a faulty sensor.

After these technical problems, two hurricanes – Ian and then Nicole – successively threatened the rocket and delayed the launch by several weeks. Winds from Hurricane Nicole damaged a thin layer of sealant on top of the rocket, but NASA said Monday that the risk was minimal.

In all, the program is years behind schedule, and the success of this multi-billion dollar mission has become imperative for NASA. Immediately after takeoff, crews from the control center in Houston, Texas will take over.

After two minutes, the two white boosters will fall back into the Atlantic. After eight minutes, the main stage will detach in turn. Then, around 1:30 a.m. after takeoff, a final push from the upper stage will set the Orion capsule on its way to the Moon, which it will reach in a few days.

There it will be placed in a distant orbit for about a week and will venture up to 64,000 km behind the Moon, a record for a habitable capsule. Finally, Orion will begin its return to Earth and test its heat shield, the largest ever built. It must withstand a temperature half as hot as the Sun’s surface as it passes through the atmosphere.

If the launch takes place on Wednesday, the mission should last 25 and a half days, with a landing in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.

New era

Following the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo missions, then the space shuttles, SLS will usher NASA into a new era of human exploration, this time in deep space. In 2024, Artemis 2 will take astronauts to the Moon, still without landing there. An honor reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, in 2025 at the earliest.

NASA then plans one mission per year to build a space station in orbit around the Moon, called Gateway, and a base at its south pole. The goal is to test new equipment there: suits, pressurized vehicle, mini power plant, use of ice water on site… All to establish a permanent human presence there.

This experiment was supposed to prepare a manned flight to Mars, perhaps in the late 2030s. This trip, of a completely different scale, would take at least two years round trip.


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