Artemis 1 already flies to the Moon

Artemis 1 has just taken off for the Moon, two and a half months late on the date, August 29, due to several postponements due to technical problems. The largest rocket ever built has ignited its engines at Cape Canaveral and shot into the skies over Florida. Two minutes later, the solid fuel boosters have separated, and the core phase has continued to ascend with the Orion spacecraft aloft. If all goes as planned, after separating from the launcher and deploying its solar panels, the Orion capsule will soon be on its way to the Moon.

With the liftoff of Artemis 1, the reconquest of the Moon begins. Half a century after the last Apollo mission, another US spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts is traveling to the satellite. But it is not manned. Artemis 1 is a first test of the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion capsule, whose director of guidance and control is the Spanish engineer Eduardo García Llama.

Video.

This has been the moment of takeoff.

The mission will last 25 days, 11 hours and 36 minutes, during which the capsule will orbit the Moon before splashing down on December 11 in the Pacific, off San Diego. If all goes well, there will be another similar flight, Artemis 2 –already manned–, in 2024 and, a year later, a woman will set foot on the Moon on the Artemis 3 mission. NASA has already chosen thirteen areas of the lunar south pole for that landing .

The Orion spacecraft's solar panels unfolding 22 minutes after liftoff. /

NASA

Unlike the 1960s, this time the objective of the US and European space agencies, which have been in charge of building the service module, is that the trip to the Moon is to stay. Artemis 3 would be the first in a series of missions that would culminate in the creation of a permanent lunar base at the South Pole, where water is believed to be in abundance, to serve as a testing ground for the future human assault on Mars. That lunar outpost would be a reality early in the next decade, according to plans by NASA and ESA.

Material differences with the Apollo

If everything goes well in this first mission –unmanned– and in the next one –already with astronauts– of the Artemis program, a woman will become, not before 2025, the thirteenth human being to set foot on another world.

The conquest of the Moon was the great milestone of the Cold War. The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, on October 4, 1957, and when Washington had still not recovered from the setback, Moscow launched the first human, Yuri Gagarin, into orbit on April 12, 1961.

With the country humiliated, President Kennedy vowed to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely.

"We have decided to go to the moon in this decade and do other things not because they are easy, but because they are difficult"

This was announced at Rice University (Texas) on September 12, 1962 by the then President of the United States. After twelve missions and three deaths – the crew of Apollo 1, when the capsule caught fire during a takeoff test – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission.

More than half a century later, the technological differences between the Apollo and Artemis programs are substantial.

The Space Launch System (SLS) is the most powerful and largest ever designed. The rocket itself is 98 meters high, which reaches 111 with the Orion and the exhaust system at the top. In total, half a meter more than the Saturn V designed by Wernher von Braun for the Apollo missions.

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Brief glossary of nomenclatures

  • Saturn V: rocket from the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • SLS: Acronym for Space Launch System, NASA's rocket from the Artemis program.

  • Apollo: command module or capsule for the astronauts of the Artemis program. It has four seats.

  • Orion: command module or capsule for the astronauts of the Artemis program. It has four seats.

Two ships for a historic mission

Also the ship that will orbit the moon is significantly more advanced.

It was the ship that transported the first men to the moon 50 years ago.

The updated version, in charge of taking the following astronauts to our satellite, but capable of transporting them beyond.

It was the ship that transported the first men to the moon 50 years ago.

The updated version, in charge of taking the following astronauts to our satellite, but capable of transporting them beyond.

It was the ship that transported the first men to the moon 50 years ago.

The updated version, in charge of taking the following astronauts to our satellite, but capable of transporting them beyond.

It was the ship that transported the first men to the moon 50 years ago.

The updated version, in charge of taking the following astronauts to our satellite, but capable of transporting them beyond.

The Orion ship of Artemis 1 will not be manned. It will carry a mannequin dressed as an astronaut, Commander Moonikin Campos, and two female torsos, Helga and Zohar, to measure various variables.

crew module

European service module

crew module

European service module

crew module

European service module

crew module

European service module

The capsule has capacity for four astronauts, and its service module – thanks to which it is propelled, which provides water and oxygen, where electricity is generated... – is made in Europe.

This time it is not about arriving, touching and returning, like half a century ago. It is about staying with the installation of a permanent base, foreseeably at the beginning of the next decade.

Artemis 1's Orion spacecraft will travel to the Moon, which it will orbit before returning to Earth.

Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, crew members of Apollo 17, were the last humans on the Moon, from where they took off on December 12, 1972. And the Apollo program, which had cost the equivalent of 158,000 million dollars in 2020 and in which they had reached 400,000 people to work, it was cancelled. There was no point in sustaining such an effort: the United States had already beaten the Soviet Union in the race to the moon. Since December 1972, no human has set foot on the satellite. The next one will be a woman.

There are nine candidates: Christina Koch, Jessica Meir, Anne McClain, Kate Rubins, Stephanie Wilson, Nicole Mann, Jasmin Moghbeli, Kayla Barron and Jessica Watkins. Although she is not the only black astronaut, from her experience – she has flown into space three times – Wilson seems the best placed. NASA wants the third Artemis mission to travel to the Moon the first woman and the first person of color. She ticks both boxes.

Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt twin to Apollo, gives its name to a manned flight program whose origins date back to 2009, the first year of Barack Obama's term, and the canceled Constellation project.

Donald Trump ratified in December 2017 the human return to the satellite as a priority of his Administration and, in May 2019, NASA renamed the program Artemis, for its goal of taking the first woman to the Moon.

Before that happens, there will be two test flights. In the one that takes off on Monday, the new rocket and the Orion spacecraft will fly together for the first time.

Release Abort System

crew module

Service module protection panels

cryogenic propulsion system

Vehicle Phase Adapter

solid propellant rockets

Release Abort System

crew module

Service module protection panels

cryogenic propulsion system

Vehicle Phase Adapter

solid propellant rockets

Release Abort System

crew module

Service module protection panels

cryogenic propulsion system

Vehicle Phase Adapter

solid propellant rockets

Release Abort System

crew module

Service module protection panels

cryogenic propulsion system

Vehicle Phase Adapter

solid propellant rockets

One of the priorities is to check that the Orion's armor resists the 2,800 ºC that it will have to face during entry into the atmosphere, at around 40,000 kilometers per hour. Despite all the tests done on the ground, there is no facility where these conditions, more extreme than those of return trips from the International Space Station (ISS), can be replicated.

In addition, from launch to splashdown on October 10 in the Pacific off the coast of San Diego, NASA engineers in Houston will control all of the spacecraft's propulsion, navigation, and communications systems. It will be the moment of truth after hundreds of simulations and studies in which the technicians have faced different scenarios and problems.

"It will be like a first date between the ship and the mission technicians"

Eduardo Garcia Call

Orion Guidance and Control Team Manager

The Orion will be captained by a mannequin, Commander Moonikin Campos, who owes his last name to Arturo Campos, a Hispanic electrical engineer whose role was key in bringing the Apollo 13 crew back to Earth after the explosion recorded on the ship.

Dressed in the space suit that astronauts will wear, he is equipped with radiation and other sensors to see how the human body reacts to the accelerations and decelerations of the journey. You won't be alone. He will be accompanied by Helga and Zohar, two female torsos nicknamed 'the ghosts'. They are made with materials that simulate human bones and tissues, and the organs of an adult woman, because the female organism is more sensitive to the effects of radiation. Zohar will wear an anti-radiation vest; Helga no.

Since 1972, no human has traveled more than 570 kilometers from Earth, as far as NASA astronauts went to repair the Hubble Space Telescope between 1993 and 2009.

The Moon is a thousand times further away than the International Space Station, at about 384,000 kilometers. The Artemis astronauts will not have the shelter of the Earth's atmosphere and magnetosphere, so Orion has been designed to protect them from radiation from the Sun and the rest of the Cosmos. Humans returning to the Moon will be exposed to more than 150 times more radiation than if they were on the surface of our planet.

The Artemis 1 capsule will travel 2.1 million kilometers over 42 days. It will come within 97 kilometers of the lunar surface and, at the furthest point in its orbit, will travel 64,000 kilometers away from the satellite toward the outer solar system, 48,000 kilometers farther than Apollo 13 in April 1970.

No human manned spacecraft has gone this far into space. In addition, it will return back to Earth in October. If this dress rehearsal goes well, in 2024 four astronauts will orbit the satellite for 10 days on the Artemis 2 mission and on the next one, a woman will set foot on the Moon.