Editor’s Note, December 11: NASA’s Orion spacecraft safely landed in the Pacific Ocean on Sunday afternoon. The spacecraft returned to Earth after a nearly month-long trip to the moon, completing critical tests for the space agency.

After several delays and minor hurricane damage, NASA successfully launched the Artemis 1 mission and immediately began the program to return to the moon. Despite some fuel leak problems, NASA was able to fix the problem in time and the new Space Launch System rocket will take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the early hours of her Wednesday, November 16th. I was able to. Although the Artemis I mission will not land, the lunar flight itself will be the furthest ever in space by a vehicle designed for human astronauts. The mission completed a lunar flyby early Monday morning.

Orion constellation captures the moon.

There are no humans on NASA’s epic journey, but there are three astronauts: Helga, Zohar, and Mounikin Campos. They are high-tech his mannequins (a term for human models used in scientific research) loaded with sensors to test how the human body would respond to space travel. Helga and Zohar are designed to measure the effects of radiation on a woman’s body in space, and Moonikin Campos sits in the captain’s seat to see just how bumpy a voyage to the moon will be for future human crews. track what These mannequins may not be particularly impressive on their own, but they could play an important role in NASA’s ambition to build a new route to the moon and eventually send astronauts to Mars. prize. These are also just one of several science experiments on board the mission to improve our understanding of space travel.

Liftoff was originally scheduled for August 29, but NASA postponed the launch after engineers encountered several problems, including a nearby thunderstorm and problems cooling one of the rocket’s engines. . A fuel leak problem delayed the launch again in September, but it finally launched on November 16 at 1:47 am.

When Orion completed its first lunar flyby early this morning, it took several images of the Moon along the way. Eventually, the spacecraft returns to Earth, completing her 1.3 million mile journey lasting 42 days.

Orion’s lunar flyby.

“It’s a good demonstration that the rocket works as it’s supposed to,” Wendy Whitman Cobb, a professor at the US Air Force’s School of Advanced Aerospace Studies, told Recode in August. “NASA can feel a little more confident about the manned missions that are slated for the next few years.”

Artemis is the next generation lunar mission. It’s part of NASA’s broader lunar exploration ambitions, including astronaut treks across the moon’s surface, human settlements on the moon, and a new space station called Gateway. Artemis 1 also lays the groundwork for his next two missions in the Artemis program. Artemis 2 is scheduled to send humans on a similar trip around the Moon in 2024. Artemis 3 makes history by landing the first woman and person of color. It will reach the moon as early as 2025. All research being done on Artemis I, including Helga, Zohar, and Munikin Campos, is to prepare for later missions.

All members of Artemis 1

NASA’s lunar vehicle, SLS, is designed to carry very heavy payloads. The rocket is just meters taller than the Statue of Liberty and can produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust. Like any launch system, the SLS was designed in several different stages, each responsible for overcoming Earth’s gravity, breaking through the atmosphere, and reaching outer space. To accomplish this, the SLS includes two solid rocket boosters and a 212-foot-tall core stage filled with over 700,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen. This is the largest core stage NASA has ever built.

View of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft from the Launch Control Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Joel Kowski/NASA via Getty Images

Although technically new, SLS is based on old technology. Some of the components, including the main engine, are from or based on systems used in the NASA Space Shuttle program, which ended in 2011. SLS he flies only once. This is the difference between SLS and Starship, the super-heavy rocket SpaceX is designing for lunar missions. SpaceX, which beat out Blue Origin for his $2.9 billion contract to build NASA’s lunar landing system, expects Starship’s first orbital test flight to take place within the next four months. Congress’ decision to fund the SLS has hit the space industry as the project has overshot its budget by billions of dollars and has been repeatedly delayed, and private companies are now developing cheaper alternatives. It’s still a problem inside.

“As the SLS continued to pour money and jobs into key congressional districts, Congress put up with budget overruns ahead of schedule,” explains Whitman Cobb.

Widespread support for Orion, specially designed by NASA for the Artemis mission, and the possibility of travel to nearby asteroids and Mars. The spacecraft was manufactured by Lockheed Martin and from the outside it looks like a giant turkey buster with wing-like panels protruding from the sides. It is where astronauts who travel to and from the space will eventually spend their time. Once the spacecraft is scrutinized for human astronauts, the crew module will include sleeping bags, an assortment of space food bars with new NASA recipes, zero gravity and an improved space toilet designed for everyone. It is expected to provide various space travel amenities, such as gender.

In this mission, the main passengers are a collection of science experiments. One test uses NASA manikins Zohar and Helga. These mannequins are made of her 38 pieces of plastic that mimic human tissue and also contain over 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors. There are high levels of radiation in space, and there are ongoing concerns that future astronauts may face an increased risk of cancer, especially as space travel becomes longer and more ambitious. Both of these mannequins are designed with breasts and uterus because women tend to be more sensitive to radiation. Zohar also wears a special protective vest called AstroRad. Engineers are evaluating this as a potential way to protect astronauts from radiation, including during solar flares. Helga won’t receive a vest, allowing NASA to investigate just how useful her AstroRad really was.

Orion is also conducting experiments to test how yeast respond to radiation. The researchers plan to keep the freeze-dried yeast under the Orion crew member’s seat, and he will expose the yeast to the liquid over three days in space. Once Orion lands on Earth, scientists will analyze the yeast’s DNA to find out how it worked. The experiment could provide insight into how humans stay healthy in space during future travels.

Orion constellation approaches the moon.

A version of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is also coming. NASA is testing Callisto, a customized hardware and software combination designed by Amazon, Cisco and Lockheed Martin to communicate with astronauts. In this test, Mission Control will be able to send audio and video messages to a tablet aboard the Orion capsule, and a version of Alexa will receive the messages and share the responses. Although the technology may sound like HAL 2001: A Space Odysseyengineers say the system is meant to provide support and companionship.

“Callisto is a standalone payload aboard the Orion spacecraft and cannot control flight controls or other mission-critical systems,” Justin Nikolaus, Amazon’s lead Alexa experience designer, said in August. I’m here.

Other aspects of Artemis I’s payload are more sentimental. A plush version of Shaun the Sheep from the Wallace and Gromit series travels through Orion. Snoopy doll in an astronaut costume and the nib that Charles M. Schultz used to draw the Peanuts series are wrapped in her strip of comics. Memorabilia from the 1960s Apollo 11 mission, which put humans on the moon for the first time, will also be on display, along with small samples of moon dust and engine debris.

over the moon

Some of Artemis I’s most important research projects won’t be returning to Earth anytime soon. The mission includes plans to launch 10 of his small satellites, called CubeSats, into lunar orbit. These satellites collect data that NASA and private companies can ultimately use on and around the moon.

One of the satellites, LunIR, uses thermal imagery to study the safety of the moon’s surface, producing information that can influence where astronauts end up. One satellite, called the Lunar Ice Cube, will attempt to detect sources of lunar water that NASA can eventually use as a resource. Another satellite, NEA Scout, heads for a nearby small asteroid. This is a side trip that could inform future manned missions to other asteroids. Satellites are launched by another component called the Orion Stage Adapter only after the spacecraft has left a safe distance.

The Orion spacecraft aboard a NASA aircraft at Kennedy Space Center on November 21, 2019.
Courtesy of NASA

These satellites are a reminder that NASA cares about more than just visiting the moon. The Artemis program lays the groundwork for an unprecedented level of activity on the lunar surface, including a human base camp, a series of nuclear reactors, and mining operations. NASA has explicitly stated that it wants to develop a lunar economy, and the space agency also established the Artemis Accords, a set of principles for exploring the moon, now with more than 20 countries participating.

Ultimately, NASA plans to turn the moon into a pit stop for a far more ambitious journey: a manned mission to Mars. At the moment, it looks like it could happen in the late 2030s. But while many of these plans are still a long way off, it’s clear that the Artemis program is more than just an iteration of the Apollo program.

“Apollo was a political act to show the world the national power of the United States in the context of the Cold War. It was clearly the first race to the moon with the Soviet Union. There is no longer any reason to do so,” explains John Logsdon, founder of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University. “Artemis is intended as the first program in a long-term program of human exploration.”

Update, November 21, 12:50 PM ET: This article was originally published on August 27th and was updated by NASA’s successful launch of the Artemis 1 mission on November 16th and Orion’s lunar flyby on November 21st.


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