NASA's Artemis I moon rocket sits at Launch Pad Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in June. Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images hide caption
Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images
NASA's Artemis I moon rocket sits at Launch Pad Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in June.
Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images
NASA's hopes for a Monday launch of the massive Space Launch System rocket from the Kennedy Space Center on a test flight to the moon are on hold for at least a few days after engineers were unable to resolve an engine problem.
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One of the four SLS core-stage engines failed to reach the proper temperature for launch, prompting the Artemis I mission's launch director to scrub the planned Monday morning liftoff.
With just 40 minutes left on the countdown, scheduled as early as 8:33 a.m. ET, flight controllers had called a hold while engineers evaluated the problem.
Engineers were dealing with a series of issues in the runup to the planned launch. First, lightning strikes at the pad on Saturday initially caused some concern, but officials later said there was no damage to the vehicle, the capsule or ground equipment. Then came a 45-minutes weather delay early Monday morning that slowed the procedure for filling the core stage with its hydrogen fuel. A leak was also discovered, but resolved.
"We don't launch until it's right," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said after Monday's decision to scrub.
Putting the flight on hold was "illustrative that this is a very complicated machine, a very complicated system, and all those things have to work," he said.
"You don't want to light the candle until it's ready to go," Nelson, himself an a former space shuttle astronaut, said.
The next launch opportunity for the uncrewed Artemis I launch is Friday. The flight is meant as an initial step in eventually returning humans to the surface of the moon — a flight that could take place as early as 2025.
The 30-story-tall SLS rocket, topped by an uncrewed Orion spacecraft, was rolled out earlier this month to the same historic launch complex used by the mighty Saturn V during the Apollo moonshots that ended in 1972.
An illustration shows the Space Launch System configuration for the Artemis I mission. NASA hide caption
An illustration shows the Space Launch System configuration for the Artemis I mission.
This first mission of Artemis — named after the twin sister of Apollo — is a trial run of hardware needed to go back to the moon for longer stays and more science.
"It is an incredible step for all of humankind," NASA astronaut Nicole Mann told NPR's All Things Considered. "This time going to the moon to stay. And it's really the building blocks for our exploration to Mars."
The Artemis program, expected to have an ultimate price tag of $93 billion, promises to refocus NASA's long-term human space-flight goals, paving the way for eventually establishing a crewed base near the moon's south pole and crewed missions to Mars.
But one key piece of the program — the vehicle that will actually land on the moon's surface — will not be part of the first Artemis mission. Elon Musk's SpaceX has been contracted to build a lunar variant of its Starship to take astronauts to the surface. The vehicle has yet to be tested in orbit. Another component of the original Artemis program, Gateway, a sort of deep-space way station for astronauts to and from a future moon base, is also still under development.
It's a modern mission with a retro look
The SLS sports stretched versions of the solid-rocket boosters used by the space shuttle, which last flew more than a decade ago, as well as four RS-25 engines that were refurbished and are being reused after previously flying on shuttle missions. The rocket's upper stage will be powered by a type of engine first developed in the late 1950s.
Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage and upper stage. Boeing's chief engineer for the SLS program, Noelle Zietsman, says that in building the giant rocket, engineers drew from the "foundations and fundamentals" of the Saturn V and space shuttle years.
"We've got our missions that we're focused on right now to the moon," she says. "But [the SLS] is for deep space exploration. ... So, the capability is much greater and larger beyond just the moon landing."
The cone-shaped Orion spacecraft, which will take up to four astronauts into lunar orbit on future missions, resembles the Apollo-era "command module." Finally, a European service module, attached to Orion, is comparable in function to Apollo's service module and will provide propulsion, electricity, water, oxygen and climate control to future crews.
The six-week Artemis I test flight will send Orion into what is known as a distant retrograde orbit, an oblong circuit that will take it just 62 miles from the moon's surface at one point and well beyond the moon at another.
A NASA illustration shows the Artemis I mission profile. NASA hide caption
A NASA illustration shows the Artemis I mission profile.
Artemis I's Orion will fly without some life support systems and crew support items or a docking system, which won't be needed on the first flight, says Mike Hawes, Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin, which is building the capsule.
Instead, three mannequins equipped with radiation and vibration sensors will sit in. "Getting the radiation profile and having a long exposure in this unique lunar orbit is really important to us as we get ready to fly crew," Hawes says.
NASA is planning to fly four astronauts aboard Artemis II in 2024, with Artemis III set for the program's first landing a year later. The space agency says the program will eventually put the first woman and first person of color on the moon.
But delays and cost overruns have plagued Artemis, and its predecessor, Constellation, for years. A NASA Inspector General report issued last year predicted that the space agency would "exceed its timetable" for the first Artemis moon landing "by several years."
NASA says it can't put the first person of color on the moon until at least 2025
After liftoff, Artemis I will enter low-Earth orbit, where Orion's service module will unfurl solar panels before boosting itself into a higher orbit in preparation for a four-day trip to lunar orbit.
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via YouTube
Artemis could be key in getting to Mars
On a future landing, NASA hopes to be able to mine water ice that has been confirmed deep in polar craters that never see sunlight — a critical resource for drinking, breathable oxygen and to eventually produce rocket fuel. A lunar base could prove an invaluable stepping stone for crewed flights to Mars, where the moon's low gravity would make such missions easier to launch.
NASA recently announced 13 sites near the moon's south pole as candidates for the Artemis III surface mission a few years from now. Those locations have been chosen for ease of landing, exposure to sunlight so that a spacecraft can generate solar power, and their nearness to possible permanently shadowed ice deposits.
"The lunar south pole is an absolutely extraordinary geologic terrain," says David Kring, a lunar geologist at the Center for Lunar Science & Exploration in Houston, Texas. "We are going to learn so much about the evolution of the moon."
"When we better understand the evolution of the moon, we are going to be better understanding the evolution of our own planet Earth," he adds.
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A polar mission, however, will be something new. It represents a departure from Apollo, which placed a dozen astronauts at sites all nearer the moon's equator.
"The topography looks a bit more remarkable at the south, just because the sun angle is so low," says Bethany Ehlmann, associate director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology.
Ehlmann leads a team responsible for Lunar Trailblazer, a robotic mission set for next year that will produce detailed maps of those permanently shadowed crater regions that could contain ice.
At the south pole, "the terrain is comparable" to the Apollo landing sites nearer the equator, she says. "And frankly, landing systems are better now than in the 1970s."
Brendan Byrne of member station WMFE, contributed to this story from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
After two failed attempts to launch, NASA's moon rocket may need repairs For a second time, NASA has scrubbed the launch of its new moon rocket. Problems with fuel leaks and faulty sensors led to the delays for the Artemis-1 test mission, with more possible delays to come.
What Is NASA's Artemis Programme? The Artemis programme is a series of ongoing space missions run by NASA. Three Artemis missions are currently in progress; Artemis 1, an uncrewed test flight around and beyond the Moon, planning to launch 14 November 2022.
The 1.3 million mile journey is expected to last 42 days, three hours and 20 minutes. If successful it will break the record for the longest flight without docking at a space station. The spacecraft will also make a close pass of the lunar surface.
The Saturn V rocket stands 363 feet tall and has dazzled viewers since its first un-crewed takeoff, the Apollo 4 mission in 1967. When fueled and ready for launch, the rocket can weigh 6.2 million pounds (2.8 kg). That is almost the same weight as 39 space shuttle orbiters.
Space is very, very cold. The baseline temperature of outer space is 2.7 kelvins (opens in new tab) — minus 454.81 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 270.45 degrees Celsius — meaning it is barely above absolute zero, the point at which molecular motion stops. But this temperature is not constant throughout the solar system.
No. The only astronauts who have died in space were three Soviet Cosmonauts and the crew of the Shuttle Columbia, all of whom died during reentry. Even if an astronaut had died while in orbit, the only manned spacecraft that have every left low earth orbit were the Apollo lunar missions, and they all made it back.
NASA's Space Launch System, which is designed to return humans to the Moon in the Artemis missions, is planned to have a test flight. The maiden flight of Vulcan Centaur was planned for 2022. The launch vehicle is designed by United Launch Alliance to gradually replace Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy at lower costs.
Remaining aboard the station is the seven-person crew of Expedition 66 with Station Commander Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency), NASA astronauts Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, Frank Rubio, and Jessica Watkins, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin.
Late 2022: A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will launch Boeing's CST-100 Starliner spacecraft on its first crewed flight. NASA astronauts Butch Wilmore and Mike Fincke, along with an unidentified third crew member, will fly on the mission.
$4.1 billion per four-person flight. That's $1,025,000,000 per astronaut.
Starting from launch on January 19, 2006, and with a gravity assist from Jupiter along the way, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft took 9 years and 5 months to get to Pluto, 39 AU from the Sun. It traveled at an average speed of 4.1 AU/year.
The spacecraft departs Earth at a speed of about 24,600 mph (about 39,600 kph). The trip to Mars will take about seven months and about 300 million miles (480 million kilometers).
The first American spacecraft, the Mercury capsule, only held one person! You can fit three people in a Soyuz spacecraft, the ones we use today to reach the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is built for six people to live on at any time. The space shuttle could hold up to eight people.
The rocket is 310 mm in diameter, and can reach an altitude of 150 km. The first flight of S-310 in January 1975 was successful, and it has been launched at Kagoshima Space Center at Uchinoura, Showa Station in Antarctica and Andøya in Norway.
For the main frame most rockets use aerospace grade aluminum or titanium since both metals are very strong but light weight. Future rocket designs are even looking into using carbon composite structures. Aluminum, however, melts at the high reentry temperatures.
And the space shuttle, which NASA retired in July after 30 years of service, failed just twice in 135 missions, putting its reliability at about 98.5 percent (though those two failures tragically resulted in the deaths of 14 astronauts).
Since March 2006, SpaceX has launched 5 Falcon 1 and 171 Falcon 9 rockets. Of these 3 Falcon 1 and 2 Falcon 9 launches were complete failures and one Falcon 9 launch was a partial failure. That gives SpaceX a success rate of more than 97%, making SpaceX one of the most reliable launch providers ever.
The space shuttle Challenger disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986, marked one of the most devastating days in the history of space exploration.
Four fully operational orbiters were initially built: Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, and Atlantis. Challenger and Columbia were destroyed in mission accidents in 1986 and 2003 respectively, killing a total of fourteen astronauts. A fifth operational orbiter, Endeavour, was built in 1991 to replace Challenger.