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.
NASA’s continued goal of sending humans into deep space using its Space Launch System (SLS) recently took a giant leap as the world’s largest space agency finalized the SLS Stages Production and Evolution Contract worth $3.2 billion with The Boeing Company in Huntsville, Alabama. The purpose of the contract is for Boeing to keep building SLS core and upper stages for future Artemis missions to the Moon and beyond for at least five more SLS launches.
The Orion spacecraft made its first close flyby of the Moon on Monday, November 21, coming as close as 81 statute miles (130 km) from the lunar surface. As the Artemis 1 mission’s uncrewed spacecraft flew past the far side of the Moon, Orion’s orbital maneuvering system engine fired for 2 minutes and 30 seconds to successfully put the capsule into the desired orbit for the mission, called a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.
“This burn is setting Orion up to orbit the Moon, and is largest propulsive event so far, as Artemis is hunting the Moon,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis Mission Manager at a briefing on Monday.
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.”
If the next launch attempt of the Artemis I mission goes as planned, it should be a spectacular sight.
NASA is now targeting Monday, November 14 at just after midnight Eastern Time for the liftoff of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft. A 69-minute launch window opens at 12:07 a.m. EST.
NASA announced they have chosen Axiom Space to build the spacesuits for the next astronauts to walk on the Moon. The spacesuits will be used on the Artemis III mission, which is planned to land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface.
Axiom Space says the new spacesuits will provide astronauts with advanced capabilities for space exploration while providing NASA commercially developed human systems needed to access, live, and work in microgravity as well as on and around the Moon.
After reviewing the data from Monday’s scrubbed launch attempt for the Space Launch System/Artemis- 1 test flight, NASA’s Mission Management Team feels the rocket and the launch team will be ready for another try at the program’s maiden launch on Saturday, September 3. The two-hour launch window starts at 2:17 pm EDT (18:17 UTC).
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.
NASA has announced tentative placeholder launch dates for its beast of a rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), on its maiden flight to deep space. While work still needs to be accomplished to ensure its launch, the tentative dates are currently August 29th, September 2nd, and September 5th. While NASA stressed these are not set dates, the announcement nonetheless puts SLS closer than ever to flight.
The maiden launch of the most powerful rocket ever built comes after years of budget increases and delays. Funding for SLS was approximately $1.5 billion in 2011 but has increased almost every year until it hit $2.5 billion in 2021. This came after Congress mandated SLS “operational capability…not later than December 31, 2016”, but has faced countless delays since then due to audits and poor management.