NASA tries for the 3rd time to launch its mega-rocket for the Moon

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

Third test for NASA’s new mega-rocket: takeoff of the Artemis 1 mission is scheduled for the night of Tuesday November 15 to Wednesday November 16 from Florida, and this time all the lights seem to be green to finally launch 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 1:04 a.m. local time (6:04 a.m. Paris time), with a possible launch window of two hours. The chance of favorable weather conditions at 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 on Tuesday afternoon to begin complex fueling operations at Kennedy Space Center.

“Our time will come”

Our time will come and we hope it’s Wednesday“, declared Monday evening Mike Sarafin, person in charge of the mission. He praised theperseveranceof his teams, who had to bounce back after two failed take-off attempts this summer, then two hurricanes.

Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, this unmanned test flight, which will circumnavigate 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, some 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 and see the next moon lift, in personAndrew Trombley, 49, told AFP on Cocoa Beach. This engineer had already traveled from Missouri for the first two attempts. “I can’t wait to see her gohe said, sporting a Star Wars t-shirt.

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

The program is years behind schedule

This summer, a hydrogen leak caused the cancellation of the second take-off attempt at the last moment. 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 then Nicole – successively threatened the rocket, postponing take-off by several weeks. Winds from Hurricane Nicole damaged a thin layer of sealant atop the rocket, but NASA said Monday the risk was minimal.

In total, the program is years behind schedule and the success of this mission, which costs several billion dollars, has become imperative for NASA. Right 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 1h30 after takeoff, a final push from the upper stage will put 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, testing its heat shield, the largest ever built. It will have to withstand a temperature half as hot as the surface of the Sun as it passes through the atmosphere.

If the takeoff 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

After the Saturn V rocket of the Apollo missions, then the space shuttles, SLS must bring NASA into a new era of human exploration, this time of 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, named Gateaway, and a base on its south pole. The goal is to test new equipment there: suits, pressurized vehicle, mini-power plant, use of ice water on site… All in order to establish a lasting human presence there.

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

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