NASA’s long-delayed mission to return humans to the moon is finally about to begin.
After four delays, Artemis 1 is scheduled to take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral early Wednesday morning.
The two-hour launch window begins at 1.04am local time (6.04am UK time), with managers inspecting the Orion spacecraft due to Florida hit by Hurricane Nicole last week.
With Orion and its accompanying Space Launch System rocket deemed ready to launch, both were launched as the clock ticked for launch.
With final preparations underway, here’s what you need to know about historic space exploration.
What did Artemis hope to achieve?
The mission consists of three phases.
The first was a 42-day uncrewed flight around the moon. It will test the giant rocket and Orion spacecraft that astronauts will eventually ride on.
In space, it will deploy 10 CubeSats (a type of tiny satellite) that will perform a variety of jobs in deep space, from studying how radiation affects yeast DNA to searching for water ice on the moon.
Weather is a big focus of the test mission, with galactic cosmic rays posing the biggest risk to future astronauts.
The new space weather center will study the solar wind — the release of charged particles from the sun — and solar flux (concentrated sunlight), as well as coronal mass ejections (those ejections of plasma and magnetic fields from the top of the sun).
A new rover will also combine the best features of the historic Apollo rovers and Mars rovers, allowing astronauts to drive them both in person and remotely.
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Orion will fly 60 miles above the nearest moon and enter Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour during re-entry a few weeks later before landing on the coast of California on October 10.
Cameras inside and outside Orion will share images and video throughout the mission.
If all goes according to plan, it will spend longer in space than any human vehicle in history that has not docked at the space station.
During Artemis 2, the crew will buckle up and launch for the first time for more testing. The names of the four astronauts have not yet been confirmed, but this phase is planned for 2024.
Lasting approximately 8 to 10 days, they will fly past the Moon before returning to Earth.
Humans will finally land on the moon again during Artemis 3, nasa Said the crew would include the first woman and people from various ethnic backgrounds.
The timeline depends on the progress of previous missions, but is currently set for 2025.
NASA hopes to establish a base camp for annual missions and use it as a test bed for more ambitious missions, starting with sending humans to Mars.
Any fun facts about the mission?
Fans of ancient mythology will note that the mission is named after the Greek goddess of the moon and the twin sister of Apollo. She is the goddess of the hunt, moon and chastity.
The Orion capsule — named after the constellation — has only mannequins and a stuffed animal on board.
The mannequin captain is called Commander Moonikin Campos, and he will always sit in the commander’s seat.
A plush Snoopy toy will also float around the Orion capsule as a zero-gravity indicator.
Mannequins on a mission to go ‘where no man (or woman) has gone before’
David Blevins, Sky Correspondent
Three mannequins on missions to the moon and beyond – Commanders Moonikin Campos, Helga and Zohar.
As described, the Phantom will play a key role in Artemis 1, the maiden voyage of NASA’s plan to return humans to the lunar surface.
Commander Moonikin Campos is a name chosen by public vote in honor of Arturo Campos, the engineer who helped Apollo 13 return safely to Earth.
He will sit in the commander’s seat and wear the Orion crew survival system suit, complete with radiation, acceleration and vibration sensors.
In due course, real-life astronauts will experience two-and-a-half times the force of gravity during ascent and four times the force of gravity at two points on re-entry.
Before Artemis 2, engineers plan to compare Artemis 1 flight data with previous ground vibration tests that have been conducted on the same mannequin.
Two female mannequins, named Helga by the German Aerospace Center and Zohar by the Israel Space Agency, will point the way in history.
In 2025, NASA plans to land the first woman on the moon, as well as the first person from a different ethnic background.
“The next set of bootprints left by our astronauts on the Moon will belong to a woman,” said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis 1’s female launch commander.
“There are no boundaries, no limits,” she added.
Both female phantoms are made of materials that simulate female soft tissues, organs, bones, lungs and brain tissue to test how radiation travels through the body.
The torso has more than 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors that measure radiation exposure in different organs during the mission.
Zohar will don the AstroRad, a radiation protection vest, while Helga will be left unprotected.
The command module Orion will come within 60 miles of the Moon and then fly 40,000 miles beyond it, going farther than any spacecraft has ever done.
In order to establish a permanent base on the moon, from where humans may one day land on Mars, it marks the beginning of a new era of space exploration.
If all goes according to plan, this really will be one small step for three mannequins, one giant leap for mankind.
How powerful is the Artemis 1 rocket?
The 98-meter-long Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA, will travel farther than any spacecraft ever built for humans during this crucial testing phase: 40,000 miles across the far side of the Moon, a distance of Earth 280,000 miles.
The giant rocket’s 8.8 million pounds of thrust at launch was 13 percent higher than the Space Shuttle and 15 percent higher than the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo missions.
Each of the two boosters produces more thrust than 14 four-engine commercial airliners and will launch for 126 seconds, providing more than 75 percent of the thrust before the vehicle breaks down, according to NASA.
It’s also powered by four RS-25 engines, and it will take days to get to the moon.
When was the last time humans landed on the moon?
About 50 years ago: It was Apollo 17 in December 1972—about three and a half years after Neil Armstrong made history with his first moon walk.
NASA funding was cut as the last three Apollo missions were canceled as President Kennedy’s big goals were achieved.
NASA hopes Artemis will see humans return to the Moon in 2025 — but it will be the third part of a trilogy of launches that began this week.
While Artemis 1 was uncrewed, Artemis 2 — currently scheduled for 2024 — will see humans sent into space, circling the moon’s perimeter before returning home. This will be the deepest place humans have ventured into space.
Artemis 3 will follow and will see the first woman walk on the moon.