Addendum: Today’s launch was scrubbed due to an engine issue that occurred during fueling. The backup date of Sept. 2nd is now targeted.
On Monday, August 29th, NASA will make history with the launch of the Artemis I mission. As the first flight in the Artemis Program, the mission will consist of a fully-stacked Space Launch System (SLS) and an Orion spacecraft taking off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once in orbit, the uncrewed Orion spacecraft and European Space Module (ESM) will fly beyond the Moon before returning to Earth. This mission will validate the key systems and components of the Artemis Program and be a dress rehearsal for the crewed Artemis II mission in 2024.
According to the Flight Readiness Review, the Artemis I mission is a GO for launch and will launch no earlier than 02:33 PM EST (11:33 PM PST). While the mission is uncrewed, the crew module will still carry two mannequins (Helga and Zohar), occupying two of the capsule’s passenger seats. Helga and Zohar will carry over 5600 sensors to measure the radiation load during the circumlunar journey. Shaun the Sheep, a character from the popular animated series Wallace and Grommit, will occupy the third seat as part of a global social media campaign.
The mission will last 20 to 40 days, depending on how many orbits the Moon mission controllers decide to make. This flexibility in mission duration is necessary to allow the mission to end with a splashdown off the coast of California during daylight hours (as planned). Once in orbit, the Orion and ESM will use the Moon’s gravity to gain speed and reach a maximum distance of 70,000 km (43,500 mi) from the Moon’s surface and almost half a million km (310,685 mi) from Earth – farther than any spacecraft has ever traveled.
This mission will set the stage for Artemis II, the first crewed mission of the program (scheduled for May 2024). This mission is planned to last ten days and will see a crew of four travel beyond the Moon – to a distance of 7,400 km (4,600 mi) from the lunar surface – without landing, then return to Earth. The ESM will provide for the astronaut’s basic needs, such as water, breathable air, temperature control, power, and propulsion. The ESM and Orion are the first space system since the Apollo Era that can carry crews beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and conduct high-speed reentry from the Moon.
By 2025, if all goes as planned, the Artemis III mission will send the “first woman and first person of color to the Moon.” Tomorrow is the latest step (albeit a huge one) on a long road that will return humans to the Moon for the first time in over fifty years!
Launch coverage will begin on NASA Live at midnight tonight for those living on the East Coast (09:00 PM PDT, Aug. 28th), and by 12:30 PM CEST (09:30 AM EDT; ) on ESA Web TV, when ground crews will begin fueling the SLS for launch. The launch window opens at 08:33 AM EDT (05:33 AM PDT; 14:33 CEST). In the event that the launch is scrubbed, two more dates are available – September 2nd and September 5th. All the possible launch options are listed on the Orion blog.
Further Reading: ESA