Admittedly, this is a test flight, without a crew on board. But for NASA, which has been preparing for this liftoff for more than a decade, the event is highly symbolic. He must embody the future of the space agency and prove that it is still capable of competing, especially against the ambitions of China or SpaceX.
Hotels around Cape Canaveral are sold out, with between 100,000 and 200,000 people expected to watch the show, scheduled for 8:33 a.m. local time Monday.
From the top of its 98 meters, the orange and white machine has already been enthroned for a week on launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center.
Since it was released,
you can feel the excitement, the energy kicked up a notch, it’s really palpablesaid at a press conference Janet Petro, the director of the center.
The purpose of this mission, called Artemis 1, is to test the SLS rocket (for Space Launch System) in real conditions, and the Orion capsule at its summit, where the astronauts will take place in the future.
For this time, only dummies are on board, equipped with sensors to record vibrations and radiation levels.
On-board cameras will make it possible to follow this journey of 42 days in total. A spectacular selfie with the Earth and the Moon in the background is on the program.
Once in orbit, Orion will orbit the Moon one and a half times (380,000 km away), venturing up to 64,000 km behind it, farther than any other habitable spacecraft so far.
The main objective is to test its heat shield, which on its return to the Earth’s atmosphere will have to withstand a speed of nearly 40,000 km/h, and a temperature half as hot as the surface of the Sun.
All space enthusiasts are now hanging on to the weather, which can be capricious at this time of year. For example, take-off cannot take place in the rain. On Monday, the shooting window extends over two hours, and fallback dates are scheduled for September 2 or 5.
Apart from this uncontrollable factor, everything is ready: NASA officials have given the go-ahead for takeoff after a final detailed inspection.
Which does not mean that everything will go smoothly in flight, they warned.
We are doing something incredibly difficult, and it comes with inherent risksunderlined Mike Sarafin, in charge of the mission.
Despite numerous preliminary tests, the various elements of the capsule and the rocket (which is not reusable) will fly together for the first time. Which could hold surprises.
NASA has promised to push the vehicle to its limits. The mission will continue, for example, even if Orion’s solar panels do not deploy as planned – a risk that would not be taken with a crew.
But a complete failure would remain devastating, for a rocket with a huge budget (4.1 billion per launch, according to a public audit) and late (ordered by the American Congress in 2010, with a take-off initially expected for 2017).
While the Apollo program only allowed white men to walk on the Moon, the Artemis program intends to send the first woman and the first person of color there.
After this first mission, Artemis 2 will carry astronauts to orbit around the Moon, without landing there. This honor will be reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, scheduled for 2025 at the earliest.
But why, exactly, redo what has already been done?
This time, the Moon will really only be a stepping stone to Mars.
Unlike the one-off Apollo missions, the goal of Artemis is to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, with the construction of a space station in orbit around it (Gateway) and a base on the surface.
All the technologies needed to send humans to the Red Planet are to be tested there. And Gateway will serve as a stopover and refueling point before this long journey of several months minimum.
I believe (the Artemis program) will inspire even more than Apollo didsaid Bob Cabana, a former astronaut now an associate administrator at NASA.
It’s going to be absolutely amazing.