After a first failed attempt earlier this week, NASA will again attempt to launch its mega-rocket to the Moon on Saturday for a test mission that is set to launch its new flagship Artemis program fifty years after the last Apollo flight.
Tens of thousands of spectators are hoping their wait will be rewarded with a spectacular sight: the orange-and-white SLS rocket, which will make its first flight from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the most powerful in the world.
Takeoff is scheduled for 14:17 local time (18:17 GMT) and, if necessary, is possible within the next two hours.
Weather conditions are 60% favorable at the start of this shooting window, then gradually improve to 80%.
“Our team is ready, they’re getting better with every try,” Jeremy Parsons, space center ground equipment manager, said Friday. If the weather and material conditions are met, “it is clear that we will take off.”
In the event of new obstacles on Saturday, the departure may be rescheduled for Monday or Tuesday. Then it will be necessary to wait no earlier than September 19 due to the position of the Earth and the Moon.
The goal of this unmanned mission, called Artemis 1, is to make sure the Orion capsule on top of the rocket is safe to carry astronauts in the future.
With this new ship, the US space agency intends to reconnect with deep human exploration, as the Moon is 1,000 times further away than the International Space Station.
First of all, NASA intends to establish a permanent human presence there this time to make it a springboard for travel to Mars.
– Six weeks in space –
As many as 400,000 people are expected to take off, especially from nearby beaches, during the height of the US long weekend.
Many astronauts also took part in the flight, including Frenchman Thomas Pescet.
Filling the rocket’s tanks with cryogenic fuel – about three million liters of liquid hydrogen and oxygen – should begin early in the morning.
On Monday, a leak was discovered at this stage before an engine cooling problem led to the launch being cancelled. Since then, NASA has been working to solve these problems.
If successful, two minutes after takeoff, the boosters would fall back into the Atlantic. After eight minutes, the main scene will detach in turn. Then, about an hour and a half later, the final push from the upper stage will send the capsule on its way to the Moon, which will take several days.
The trip is expected to last about six weeks. Orion will travel up to 64,000 kilometers beyond the Moon, further than any other habitable spacecraft.
The main purpose of Artemis 1 is to test the capsule’s heat shield, the largest ever built. Upon returning to the Earth’s atmosphere, it will have to withstand a speed of 40,000 km / h and a temperature half that of the surface of the Sun.
In total, the ship must travel about 2.1 million kilometers before landing in the Pacific Ocean.
– Moon landing in 2025 –
The overall success of the mission would come as a relief to NASA, which initially aimed for the first launch of the SLS in 2017 and is investing more than $90 billion in its new lunar program by the end of 2025, according to a public audit. .
The name Artemis was chosen for a female figure, the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, echoing the Apollo program that sent only white males to the surface of the moon between 1969 and 1972.
This time, NASA wants to allow the first person of color and the first woman to walk on the moon.
As if to emphasize this symbol, it will be Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s first female launch director, who will give the final lift on Saturday.
After this first mission, Artémis 2 will take astronauts to the Moon in 2024 without landing there. The honor is reserved for the Artemis 3 crew no earlier than 2025. Then NASA wants to launch about one mission per year.
Then we will talk about the construction of a space station in lunar orbit, christened Gateway, and a base on the surface of the moon.
There, NASA wants to test the technology needed to send the first humans to Mars: new spacesuits, a vehicle to get around, the possible use of lunar water…
According to NASA boss Bill Nelson, by the end of the 2030s, one could try to make a trip to the red planet aboard the Orion, which will last several years.