NASA’s newest rocket, the Space Launch System — or SLS — is scheduled to have its launch debut this month on Aug 29. The launch will be the first mission of the Artemis program — a program that will seek to repeat the success of the Apollo missions that landed Neil Armstrong on the moon. The final Apollo mission took place in December of 1972 and was the last time humans set foot on our nearest neighbor.
If all goes to plan, the first launch of SLS and the first Artemis mission, dubbed Artemis I, will lift off from the Florida Space Coast and begin an unmanned journey to the moon in just a few weeks.
This first launch is only a test flight and as such it will not include astronauts. Instead, it will be flown robotically around the moon and back to earth. At its maximum distance, the craft will be 280,000 miles from Earth. That alone will be a major advancement for crewed spaceflight. According to NASA, no human-rated spacecraft has traveled that far from Earth.
SLS is NASA’s newest rocket. Announced in 2011 as part of a series of missions to visit an asteroid and travel to mars, the rocket was repurposed in 2017 for a mission to the moon. A few of the components of the rocket may look familiar — that’s because some of the features of the SLS are borrowed from the space shuttle.
The side boosters are elongated versions of the ones used on shuttle flights from the ‘80s until the end of the program in 2011. The engines are also hand-me-downs from the shuttles. They were in fact flown on previous flights of the shuttle and are being used as a cost-savings measure.
Artemis I will take approximately eight to 14 days to arrive at the moon. Unlike Apollo 11, Artemis I will not land on the moon’s surface but will instead travel around the moon and head back to Earth. This mission will not only test the new SLS rocket but also a space capsule known as Orion. This will be the craft that astronauts ride to the moon and back home. Orion previously flew during a test flight around the Earth back in 2014.
After Artemis I, the next flight of the SLS rocket will be the Artemis II mission which will be crewed by astronauts. That mission will be very similar to Artemis I. It will circle the moon then head back to earth. Artemis III will be the mission that sees astronauts land on the moon.
How to watch
You can watch at the NASA website or their youtube page “NASA Live: Official Stream of NASA TV.”
If we’re lucky, we will see the first small step of this new giant leap in just a few weeks.
Charlie Melvin is co-publisher of the Richmond Observer and a science enthusiast.