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Artemis I: NASA’s Voyage to Moon After Over 50 Years

Artemis I will be the first planned uncrewed test flight developed by NASA.
Image for representation only; Source Flickr.

Image for representation only; Source Flickr.

The US space agency NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Agency) is going back to the moon after over 50 years, with more elaborate and advanced planning. Today, on August 29, the Artemis I mission will be launched from pad 39B (a launch pad) at the Kennedy Space Centre of NASA situated in Merritt Island, Florida. Artemis I will be the first planned uncrewed test flight developed by NASA; Artemis I will eventually take humans to the moon again. This same launch pad was used for Apollo 10, launched more than 50 years back.

The Artemis I consists of the giant rocket known as Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion space capsule. A space capsule is a spacecraft which is usually crewed. Here, with Artemis I, the spacecraft will be uncrewed in this initial test flight, originally designed to carry six astronauts. NASA plans to send crewed capsules in future if today's launch and the test flight prove successful.

Artemis I will travel a total distance of 1.3 million miles in its voyage of 42 days, 3 hours and 20 minutes, according to NASA. The mission is planned to return to Earth on October 10 and reenter Earth's atmosphere at a speed of 24,500 miles/hour. The mission is aimed to take the Orion spacecraft 40,000 miles away from the far side of the moon.

NASA has set up a two-hour window for launching Artemis I on Monday. This means NASA will have two hours within which the mission is launched.

Jim Free, the associate director for NASA's exploration system development, commented in a statement, "This is a very risky mission. We do have a lot of things that could go wrong during the mission in places where we may come home early, or we may have to have to abort to come home."

One of the profound hindrances the launch mission may face is the massive lightning that usually happens in Florida around this time of the year. Reportedly, NASA had detected five lightning strikes at the launch pad for Artemis I. however, none of them could affect the SLS rocket, thanks to the lightning protection system embedded with SLS. The lightning protection system is a network of towers and catenary wires.

Meteorologist Melody Levin said, "Basically, the beginning of the launch window, or just after 08:30 in the morning, has an 80% chance of favourable weather."

Today's test flight by Artemis will have only mannequins as the borders in the Orion capsule. NASA has done this to evaluate its next-generation spacesuits and the cosmic radiation level. The Orion spacecraft will also have a toy that, by floating, will illustrate the zero-gravity situation prevailing inside the spacecraft.

"Everything we're doing with this Artemis I flight, we're looking at through the lens of what can we prove out and what can we demonstrate that will buy down risk for the Artemis II crewed mission," commented Randy Bresnik, a NASA astronaut about the strategy adopted for Artemis I.

Around three meters tall, the Orion capsule is bigger than what was used for NASA's Apollo mission and has a capacity of four astronauts. The dummies in the form of mannequins for today's launch will occupy the spacecraft. A full-sized dummy will be at the commander's seat, equipped with vibration and acceleration sensors. There will be two other mannequins in the spacecraft, made of materials mimicking human tissues of the head and female torsos. These will measure cosmic radiations, one of the greatest risks of spaceflights. They are named Helga and Zohar.

SLS is the most powerful space vehicle designed by NASA, and it forms the foundation for its next-generation Artemis project aiming to put people on the moon. The Orion spacecraft aims to revolve around the moon on a big arc before it returns to Earth within six weeks and splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.

The service module of Orion has been provided by the ESA (European Space Agency), which is the rear section of the capsule that pushes it through space. For this contribution, Europe hopes there will be further inclusion of its nationals in the future.

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