NASA’s Artemis I in its orbit to the Moon after a successful launch on the third attempt

NASA’s next-generation giant rocket ship set off on Wednesday for a crewless voyage around the moon and returned hours after blasting off from Florida on its maiden flight, half a century after the last lunar mission of the Apollo era.

The much-delayed launch kicked off Apollo’s next program, Artemis, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface within this decade and establish a sustainable base there as a stepping stone for the future. future human exploration of Mars.

The 32-story High Space Launch System (SLS) rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 1:47 a.m. EST (12:17 p.m. IST), cutting through the darkness over Cape Canaveral with its orange-red flame tail. .

About 90 minutes after launch, the upper stage of the rocket successfully ejected the Orion capsule out of Earth’s orbit and in its orbit to the moon, NASA announced.

Drama launcher

The takeoff comes in the third billion-dollar rocket launch attempt, after 10 weeks beset by technical mishaps, consecutive storms and two excursions that took the spacecraft out of home hang the plane to get to the launch pad.

About four hours before Wednesday’s explosion, the crews had to deal with a series of simultaneous problems, including a leaking fuel valve.

The quick work on the launch pad by a special team of technicians, who tightened a loose connection inside the demarcated “explosive zone” around an almost fully fueled rocket, is noted. claimed to have saved the launch.

The three-week Artemis I mission marks the first flight of the combined SLS rocket and Orion capsule together, built by Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, under contract with NASA.

After decades of NASA focusing on low-Earth orbit with the shuttles and the International Space Station (see figure), it also signals a major shift in direction for the human spaceflight program. post-Apollo of this agency.

Named after the ancient Greek goddess of the hunt — and Apollo’s twin sister — Artemis aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2025.

More scientific than Apollo — born of the Cold War-era US-Soviet space race, sending 12 NASA astronauts to the moon on six missions between 1969 and 1972 — the Artemis program enlisted supported by commercial partners like Elon Musk’s space and the space agencies of Europe, Canada and Japan.

The my goddess The mission required a 25-day Orion flight that brought the capsule to within 97 km of the lunar surface before flying 64,400 km beyond the moon and back to Earth. The capsule is expected to fall into the sea on December 11.

You can feel it

Thunder with 8.8 million pounds of thrust generated at launch by the rocket’s four main R-25 engines and its dual solid rocket boosters sent shock waves throughout the Kennedy complex, where The crowd cheered and shouted.

“It’s unbelievable to see. It’s so bright, so loud, you can feel it,” said NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, one of several possible future candidates for the Artemis crew. , said.

The Orion capsule will have several companies orbiting the moon from a small satellite, CAPSTONE, which reached its expected lunar orbit Sunday to test the complex gravity parking position known as “near-straight HALO orbit”.

That location will be home to a future lunar space station called Gateway, which is expected to be deployed later this decade as part of the Artemis venture.

Artemis’ maiden voyage aims to put the SLS-Orion vehicle past its paces in a rigorous demonstration flight, pushing the limits of its design to prove the spacecraft is safe and reliable enough. trusted to fly astronauts.

If the mission is successful, the Crew Artemis II flight around the moon and back could arrive as early as 2024, then within a few years the program’s first moon landing. for the astronauts, one of whom was a woman, along with Artemis III.

Getting astronauts to Mars, a task far more difficult than landing on the moon, is expected to take at least another decade and a half to achieve.

Billed as the most complex, powerful rocket in the world, the SLS represents the largest new vertical launch system NASA has built since the Apollo-era Saturn V.

Although there were no people on board, Orion carried a simulated crew of three – one man and two women – equipped with sensors to measure radiation levels and other stresses experienced by the astronauts. will encounter.

The primary goal was to test the durability of Orion’s heat shield during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere at 39,400 km/h — much faster than reentry from the space station.

The spacecraft is also set to launch 10 miniature science satellites, called CubeSats, including one designed to map the abundance of ice layers at the moon’s south pole, where the moon’s south poles are located. Artemis managed to land the astronauts.

Over a decade of development with years of delays and over budgeting, the SLS-Orion spacecraft has cost NASA at least $37 billion (about Rs 3 lakh). Its Inspector General’s office has projected a total Artemis cost of $93 billion (approximately Rs 7.55 lakh) by 2025.

The program has also created tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in trade, NASA says.

© Thomson Reuters 2022

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