On August 29, 2022, a giant SLS rocket is expected to launch from launch pad 39b at Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying an Orion capsule on top. No passengers for this first flight. This is to test, in real life, the Space Launch System, the “most powerful rocket ever built” according to NASA. 111 m high and 8 m wide. The rocket, built by Boeing, has suffered five years of delays and copious budget overruns.
In empty lunar orbit
We must also test the Orion ship in its operational version. If it does not carry passengers, a complete ship, with its life support systems, will be launched. In 2014 (already), a first partial test of the ship had been carried out. It had only completed a few rotations around the Earth before being recovered. The Artemis 1 mission will not land on the Moon, but will place itself in lunar orbit before returning to land on Earth. The duration of the mission is planned between thirty-nine and forty-two days.
A piece of Europe
The Orion interplanetary spacecraft includes a command module, developed by NASA, and a service module (propulsion, solar panel), provided by the European Space Agency. This one is indeed inspired by the automatic cargo ship that supplies the International Space Station.
Four around the Moon in 2024
The Artemis 2 mission, scheduled for 2024, will carry a crew of four astronauts, but will still not land on the Moon. The Orion spacecraft will once again perform lunar orbits before returning to Earth.
A lunar space station
The Lunar Gateway, the mini lunar space station developed by NASA with the European, Canadian and Japanese space agencies, will be the other essential part of the project. It will be the interface between the Orion ships, the moon landing system and the fuel and freight cargo ships. The first two modules are to be launched in 2024.
On the Moon in 2025?
The return to the Moon is planned for the Artemis 3 mission, which will not be launched at the earliest until 2025. It was Donald Trump who had set this date as a goal, advancing NASA’s projections by four years. To set foot on the Moon again, two of the four astronauts will board a landing system (human landing system). A system is developed by Space X but NASA will also select a second supplier (Blue Origin and Dynetics are in the running).
Who will put the first foot down?
The first human to set foot on the moon since 1972 will be an American. But which one or which ones? The Artemis team selected from among the forty-eight NASA astronauts comprises eighteen people, including nine women. The crew will also have to include a “person of color” NASA announced in 2021. Six of the astronauts, including two women (Jessica Watkins and Stephanie Wilson) meet this criterion. Only two of the four Artemis III astronauts will land and spend six days on the satellite.
A step before Mars
The return to the Moon is only intended as a step before sending humans to Mars. At the most optimistic at the end of the 2030s, recognizes NASA. And a huge budget. By 2025, the Artemis project will have already cost $92 billion.
Why Artemis and Orion?
The Artemis program is named after the Greek goddess of the hunt…and the Moon. In some versions of Greek myths, it is the goddess who sends the giant hunter Orion among the stars, creating the constellation of the same name.