Nasa shoots for the Moon, on its way to Mars

NASA's SLS rocket and the Orion capsule on top of it, on August 26, 2022 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, prior to lift-off for NASA's Artemis 1 mission to the Moon.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTRE, United States: Nasa’s most powerful rocket yet is set to blast off today on the maiden voyage of a mission to take humans back to the Moon, and eventually to Mars.

Fifty years after the last Apollo mission, the space programme called Artemis is under way with the blast off of the uncrewed 98m Space Launch System rocket set at 8.33am from the space centre here in Florida.

Tens of thousands of people were on hand along the beaches of Florida to watch this launch that’s been decades in the making. They include Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Hotels around Cape Canaveral were booked solid with between 100,000 and 200,000 spectators expected to attend the launch.

The goal of the flight, baptised Artemis 1, is to test the Space Launch System and the Orion crew capsule that sits atop the rocket.

The capsule will orbit the Moon to see if the vessel is safe for people in the near future. At some point, Artemis will see a woman and a person of colour walk on the Moon for the first time.

“This mission goes with a lot of hopes and dreams of a lot of people. And we now are the Artemis generation,” Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said on Saturday.

The massive orange-and-white rocket has been sitting on the space centre’s Launch Complex 39B for a week.

Its fuel tanks were filled overnight on Sunday with more than three million litres of liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

Nasa said there was an 80 per cent chance of acceptable weather for a liftoff on time at the beginning of a launch window lasting two hours.

For the first time, a woman, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, will give the final green light for liftoff. Women now account for 30 per cent of the staff in the control room; there was just one back with Apollo 11.

Cameras will capture every moment of the 42-day trip and include a selfie of the spacecraft with the Moon and Earth in the background.

The Orion capsule will orbit around the Moon, coming within 100km at its closest approach and then firing its engines to get to a distance 60,000km beyond, a record for a spacecraft rated to carry humans.

Besides the weather, any kind of technical snafu could delay the liftoff at the last minute, Nasa officials have said, stressing that this is a test flight.

If the rocket is unable to take off on Monday, Sept 2 and 5 have been pencilled in as alternative flight dates.

One of the primary objectives of the mission is to test the capsule’s heat shield, which at 4.8m in diameter is the largest ever built.

On its return to the Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield will have to withstand a speed of 40,000kph and a temperature of 2,760°C. That is half as hot as the Sun.

Taking the place of people for now, dummies fitted with sensors will take the place of crew members, recording acceleration, vibration and radiation levels.

It will deploy small satellites to study the lunar surface.

A complete failure would be devastating for a program that is costing US$4.1 billion per launch and is already running years behind schedule.

“What we are starting with the launch on Monday is not a near term sprint, but a long-term marathon to bring the solar system and beyond into our sphere,” said Bhavya Lal, Nasa associate administrator for technology, policy, and strategy.

The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts into orbit around the Moon without landing on its surface. The crew of Artemis 3 is to land on the Moon in 2025 at the earliest.

While the Apollo astronauts who walked on the Moon were exclusively white men, the Artemis program plans to include the first woman and person of colour.

And since humans have already visited the Moon, Artemis has its sights set on another lofty goal — an eventual crewed mission to Mars.

The Artemis programme aims to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon with an orbiting space station known as Gateway and a base on the surface.

Gateway would serve as a staging and refuelling station for a voyage to Mars that would take a minimum of several months. – AFP

Source: New Straits Times


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