NASA’s Artemis I mission is about to blast the SLS megarocket toward the Moon


Okay, space fans. The moment is almost here. NASA is about to launch its next-generation rocket for the first time and send it racing past the moon. It’s going to be a wild time, but honestly, there’s a lot going on here on Earth too — and if you’re anything like me, you might be looking for a quick refresher on exactly what’s going on when NASA’s next big thing explodes.

Consider this your SLS cheat sheet as NASA gears up for its big launch on August 29.

What is SLS?

It stands for Space Launch System.

That seems like a very boring name.

It is. But it is also extremely functional, as it refers to a system for launching things into space.

What kind of things can SLS launch?

So many things! This version of SLS has four large rocket motors and two solid-state boosters and can carry about 27 tons close to the moon. That’s more than the space shuttle could carry to low Earth orbit, but less than the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket could carry to the moon. Future versions of SLS will be able to carry even more.

The SLS and Orion roll to the launch pad
Image: NASA / Kim Shiflett

How’s it going to do that?

It will light up like £5.75 million fireworks. Those boosters — the twin white cylinders on either side of the rocket — are 17 stories high and packed with a solid rocket fuel called polybutadiene acrylonitrile. They burn through six tons of this fuel every second, according to NASA. In case you’re wondering what this is regarding jumbo jets, NASA has it for you. Each “generates more thrust than 14 four-engine jumbo commercial airliners.” The two boosters will generate 75 percent of the boom that gets the rocket and its payload off the ground.

But that’s only part of the rocket’s power. There is also the 212 meter high core stage – the large orange part of the rocket. On launch day, it will be packed with 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 196,000 liquid oxygen, which will fuel the four engines at the bottom.

All that fuel and technology translates into a boatload of power. Within 8.5 minutes of launch, the SLS and Orion capsule it carries will travel at speeds of approximately 17,000 miles per hour.

What is the Orion capsule?

I know, another name. So, SLS will carry a spacecraft called Orion. (In photos, this is the white part at the top of the rocket.) It is in no way related to the Orion gaming gadget.

Photo by Loren Grush / The Verge

Orion is designed for missions beyond Earth’s orbit, with possible destinations from the Moon or Mars. It has an extremely glossy appearance that will help it deal with extreme temperatures in space, a next-generation heat shield to cope with reentry into the atmosphere, and a launch abort system that will keep astronauts safe. can bring if something goes wrong during launch. In space, it can support four people on a mission for 21 days.

Orion previously flew to space during a test flight in 2014. It has since done a lot of testing in preparation for this next flight, which has been heavily delayed, a lot time. (More on those delays later.) In 2020, it looked like there might be a chance it would be delayed again when some engineers discovered a problem with a power component for the spacecraft. It would have taken months to fix it, and they have backup systems available, so they will keep the spacecraft flying unaltered.

Will there be humans in Orion?

No. There will be three mannequins tied inside, which look terrifying to varying degrees. One is called Commander Moonikin Campos and will wear one of the flight suits that astronauts will wear on future missions. It will be joined by the limbless Helga and Zohar, who will wear radiation detectors to find out how much radiation astronauts can be exposed to during a trip to the moon. Zohar will wear a vest that can protect against radiation. Helga not. Good luck, Helga.

two blue limbless mannequins strapped to seats in the orion capsule

Helga and Zohar tied up in their seats in Orion. The feet of Commander Moonikin Campos are visible at the top left.
Image: NASA / Frank Michaux

One of the main reasons there will be no astronauts on board is that this entire launch is one giant test flight. It’s the SLS’s first big space debut, and putting people on a rocket before they see if it can actually work feels like an extremely bad choice. (NASA briefly thought about doing just that, but then decided against it.) Instead, Artemis I will go all out to test how well Orion and SLS work and push them to their limits before humans get to it. go aboard.

What is Artemis I?

Oh boy, yet another name! Artemis I is the mission that SLS and Orion perform. Its primary purpose is to ensure that Orion can work in space and that it can safely return astronauts to Earth after the mission is over. As a bonus, it will fly farther from Earth than any spacecraft designed for humans has ever flown, reaching a distance of 280,000 miles from Earth.

During its 42-day mission, it will travel a total of about 1.3 million miles, heading for the moon and then orbiting the moon for several days before returning to Earth. The maps of this mission look like an extremely large and very messy figure 8. If the August 29 launch goes according to plan, it should crash back to Earth on October 10.

A diagram showing the flight path of the Artemis I mission orbiting the Earth and the Moon.

The Itinerary of Artemis I.
Image: NASA

Are there any other Artemis missions?

Yes! If all goes well with Artemis I, NASA will move to Artemis II, which will be the first flight of the SLS/Orion combo with crew on board. It’s also the first manned mission back to the moon since the Apollo era, but the astronauts on board won’t land on the moon — they’ll simply orbit for a while and then return to Earth.

The ultimate goal is for NASA to land the first woman on the moon during the Artemis III mission, which is still in the works. In August, NASA announced several potential landing sites near the moon’s south pole.

Yes, that rings a bell. How long has this been in the making?

The Artemis program? Since 2019, when then Vice President Mike Pence announced that NASA would go back to the moon and be there by 2024.

Fun fact! It got its name because in mythology Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister, and there’s just a ton of nostalgia for the Apollo missions, for better or for worse.

So are they going back to the moon by 2024?

Absolutely not. They’re targeting 2025 right now, but that’s still pretty ambitious.

What about the SLS project? I feel like I’ve been hearing about that for a while.

You sure have. Its origins date back to around 2010, when the US moved from the space shuttle to other forms of space transportation. Parts of it started out as a project called Constellation that got canceled because it was way too expensive. It was then relaunched as SLS in 2010, with the aim of launching in 2017. That slipped into 2018 and continued to slip, as the project was notoriously delayed and over budget.

For a full look at history, check out our story here.

But… are they ready to go now?

Looking forward to it! Although their dress rehearsal was cut short in June due to a hydrogen leak, engineers think they’ve solved all the last-minute tasks for the rocket, and NASA has decided it’s a launch.

What else will be on board?

In addition to Helga, Zohar, and Commander Moonikin Campos, there will be a few other science experiments aboard Artemis I. During the mission, the spacecraft will deploy 10 small satellites called CubeSats. Some will map ice on the lunar surface, one will deploy a giant solar sail and head for an asteroid, and one will attempt to land on the moon. Also on board will be a science experiment that will transport yeast where no yeast has gone before in an effort to study radiation in deep space.

A plush cartoon sheep sticks out a hoof to a small model of the Orion capsule.

Shaun the sheep poses with a model of the Orion capsule
Image: ESA / Aardman

Also in the capsule is a plush sheep named Shaun. Also Snoopy. Both Shaun and Snoopy will serve as zero gravity indicators, hovering around Orion once it reaches microgravity.

When will the SLS launch take place?

August 29 at 8:33 ET. We’ll see you there!

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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