NASA’s Artemis program has had all sorts of delays since its inception in 2017, but the Artemis I mission finally has set a launch date (all goes well, weather permitting) and the space community is elated. NASA’s Artemis I is the program’s first mission to test new technology that will eventually put man — and woman — on the moon in a renewed era of space exploration. Apollo’s twin sister Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, is the emblem of the highly anticipated expeditions back to Earth’s satellite. Of course, there will always be unexpected delays and challenges when something is the first. However, when it comes to space, as former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver wrote in her new book Escaping Gravity, it is best to take the time and resources necessary to give a mission the best chance for success. While every setback has pushed up the overall cost of the Artemis program, it will be a massive advancement for space exploration that promises to reap its price in benefits.
The technological features of the Artemis project are the Space Launch System (SLS) super heavy-lift rocket that will send astronauts to the moon aboard the Orion spacecraft, which according to NASA, has a unique design to navigate, communicate, and operate in a deep space environment. Artemis I will be an uncrewed test flight meant to demonstrate the safety of the mission architecture and prepare all systems for Artemis II, which will carry astronauts to the moon’s orbit. Then in 2025, make a lunar landing with the Artemis III crew.
The SLS core stage and Orion capsule began their journey at NASA’s Michoud building facility in New Orleans East. Then they moved to Kennedy’s Space Center to start the infamous Wet Dress Rehearsals as well as the integrated testing checklist. The SLS has had a total of four WDR test attempts. The third attempt resulted in a hazardous hydrogen leak, and the megarocket had to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for repairs. The fourth and final attempt on June 20 was deemed successful by NASA and Boeing teams, which allowed them to suggest Aug. 29, Sept. 2 and 5 as interim dates for the long-awaited launch. While these dates are not set in stone, it is the closest NASA has been to an Artemis I countdown. Of course, it will all depend on operations going smoothly from here on and staying clear of inclement weather.
Between now and August, NASA and its contractors need to follow a series of steps before fully committing to the announced launch period. First, technicians are testing the newly replaced seals on the quick disconnect of the tail service mast umbilical to rule out any additional leaks. Engineers will then install the flight batteries for the core stage. Next, three manikins will serve as the ‘crew’ to help measure radiation, vibration, and acceleration data through the Orion Crew Survival System suits. Commander Moonikin Campos is named after Arturo Campos, a key player in the safe return of Apollo 13 back to Earth. Next, two remaining phantom manikins will be installed, Helga and Zohar, named by the German Aerospace Center and the Israel Space Agency. Finally, a few weeks before launch, the teams at NASA will start the Flight Termination Systems operations, which consist of calibrating booster safe and arm devices and replacing the command receiver decoders with the flight units.
If all of the above goes according to plan, NASA teams would be ready to declare either ‘go’ or ‘no go.’ This would be approximately a week before the interim date of Aug. 29. The other two dates, Sept. 2 and 5, are in case of last-minute unfavorable weather conditions. If unsuccessful, NASA would have to postpone to a later launch period. But so far, the hopes are high for the massive rocket and the future of the Artemis mission.