In the coming decade, NASA and China plan to send the first crewed missions (astronauts and taikonauts) to Mars. Both agencies hope to begin sending missions by 2033, coinciding with a Mars Opposition, followed by additional missions in 2035, 2037, and after. These missions will culminate with the creation of a Mars surface habitat that will enable future missions and research. Launch opportunities for these missions are limited because the distances between Earth and Mars vary considerably over time, ranging from about 56 million km (~35 million mi) to more than 400 million km (250 million mi).
The times when Earth and Mars are at their closest (known as a Mars Opposition) only occur once every 26 months. Moreover, using conventional propulsion methods, it takes missions six to nine months to travel between Earth and Mars. As a result, round-trip missions to Mars could take up to three years, dramatically increasing radiation exposure for the crew and the time they spend in microgravity. According to a recent study from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), 2033 will be a unique opportunity to send a crewed orbital mission to Mars that lasts just 1.6 years.
This time around, the photographer is basically a robot, built into the camera system for the uncrewed Artemis 1 mission. The round-the-moon odyssey got off to a spectacular start early today with the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System, and over the next 25 days it’s due to blaze a trail for future crewed trips to the lunar surface.
Hours after liftoff, a camera mounted on one of Orion’s four solar arrays pivoted around to capture a view of the spacecraft’s European-built service module in the foreground — with our half-shadowed planet set against the black background of space.
“Orion looking back at Earth as it travels toward the moon, 57,000 miles away from the place we call home,” NASA’s Sandra Jones intoned as the imagery came down.
It really, finally, actually happened. The long-waited Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying the Orion capsule launched successfully and is now on its way to the Moon. After years of delays — and then two scrubbed launch attempts and a rollback of the rocket to the Vehicle Assembly Building this fall — this is the first time in 50 years that a human capable spacecraft is going to the Moon. In a way, it is fitting that Artemis launched in the dark, as the last human-rated spacecraft that launched to the Moon – Apollo 17 – also had liftoff at night.
“It’s taken a lot to get here, but Orion is now on its way to the Moon,” said Jim Free, NASA deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. “This successful launch means NASA and our partners are on a path to explore farther in space than ever before for the benefit of humanity.”
A recent YouTube video made by YouTube account, Hazegrayart, combines awesome computer animation, great music, and crisp archived audio recordings to show how NASA’s future Lunar Gateway will function for the upcoming Artemis missions. The archived audio recordings encompass only about a third of the short four and a half minutes of video, with almost the entire length being filled with a very relaxing soundtrack as the viewer is left fixated watching a slow and methodical ballet of spaceships come together at Gateway.
The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft now sits on the launchpad, ready for liftoff on a journey around the Moon. This is the first time since 1972 that NASA has a human-rated spacecraft is ready to go beyond Earth orbit.
It’s been a long time coming, but NASA’s next moon rocket is just months from liftoff on its first uncrewed test flight. The Space Launch System (SLS) is a super heavy-lift vehicle capable of delivering 95 tons to Low Earth Orbit, but its primary purpose will be to deliver humans to lunar orbit and, eventually, to the lunar surface. SLS has been in development since 2011, and it’s faced a series of delays, but launch day is finally within sight. Earlier this month, the rocket was fully stacked for the first time in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, and the Orion capsule (the spacecraft’s crew cabin) was attached to the top. The full stack stands an impressive 322 feet tall, just shy of the Saturn V’s 363 feet.
Since 2004, NASA has been working on the launch system that will send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. These efforts bore fruit in 2011 with the proposed Space Launch System (SLS), the heaviest and most powerful rocket since the Saturn V. Paired with the Orion spacecraft, this vehicle will be the workhorse of a new space architecture that would establish a program of sustained lunar exploration and even crewed missions to Mars.
Due to repeated delays, cost overruns, and the expedited timeframe for Project Artemis, there have been serious doubts that the SLS will be ready in time. Luckily, ground crews and engineers at NASA’s Launch Control Center (LCC) – part of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida – recently finished stacking the Artemis I mission. The vehicle is now in the final phase of preparations for this uncrewed circumlunar flight in February 2022.
When NASA sends astronauts back to the Moon and to Mars, the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will be what takes them there. To build these next-generation spacecraft, NASA contracted aerospace manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Combined with the massive Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft will allow for long-duration missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for the first time in over 50 years.
On Monday, Sept. 23rd, NASA and Lockheed Martin announced that they had finalized a contract for the production and operations of six missions using the Orion spacecraft, with the possibility of up to twelve being manufactured in total. This fulfills the requirements for NASA’s Project Artemis and opens the possibility for further missions to destinations like Mars and other locations in deep-space.
In accordance with Space Policy Directive-1 – which was issued on December 11th, 2017 – NASA is busy developing all the necessary hardware to return astronauts to the Moon. On March 26th, 2019, NASA was officially directed to expedite the process and land the first astronauts of the post-Apollo era around the lunar South Pole by 2024. This mission is named Project Artemis, who is the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.