Congratulations to and our private sector and international partners on the launch of Artemis I. Today, America is charting a path back to the Moon. This is a landmark moment for our nation and our world.— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP)
If all goes according to plan,
Orion will soon travel around the moon, and also , before eventually turning back and returning to Earth — a 1.3 million-mile journey that will last 42 days. You can rewatch the .
All aboard Artemis 1NASA’s ride to the moon, the SLS, was designed to carry an extremely heavy payload. The rocket is just a few meters taller than , and it can generate . Like other launch systems, the SLS is designed with several different stages, each of which plays a role in overcoming Earth’s gravity, breaking through the atmosphere, and reaching outer space. To make that happen, the SLS includes , as well as a filled with of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. It’s NASA has ever made.
While technically new, the SLS is based on older technology. Several of its components, including , are either from or based on systems used by the NASA Space Shuttle program, which ended in 2011. And while other space launches have started using reusable, or at least partially reusable, rocket boosters, the SLS will only fly once. This differentiates SLS from Starship, the super-heavy launch vehicle that SpaceX is designing for moon missions. SpaceX, which beat out Blue Origin for to build NASA’s lunar landing system, expects Starship’s first orbital test flight to take place sometime in . Congress’s decision to fund SLS is an ongoing within the space industry because the project went and was delayed several times, and because private companies are now developing less expensive alternatives.
“Congress has put up with the over-budget, behind schedule, because SLS has kept the money and jobs flowing to key congressional districts,” explains Whitman Cobb.
There is broad-based support for Orion, which NASA designed specifically for Artemis missions, as well as potential trips to nearby or . The spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin and, from the outside, it looks like a giant turkey baster with wing-like panels coming out from its side. Orion is home to the Artemis crew module, which is where astronauts traversing to and from the moon will eventually spend their time. Once the spacecraft is vetted for human astronauts, the crew module is expected to offer various space travel amenities, including , an assortment of new NASA-recipe , and a revamped that’s designed for zero gravity and people of all genders.
On this mission, the primary passengers are a collection of science experiments. One test involves the NASA manikins Zohar and Helga, which are made of that are meant to imitate human tissue, as well as more than detectors. There’s a tmtplay com:high level of radiation in space, which is a source of ongoing concern that future astronauts could face heightened cancer risk, especially as space trips become longer and more ambitious. Both of these manikins were designed with breasts and uteri because women tend to be more sensitive to radiation. Zohar will also wear a specialized protective vest called AstroRad, which engineers are evaluating as a potential way to protect astronauts from radiation, including during . Helga won’t receive a vest, and will allow NASA to study how much the AstroRad actually helped.Orion is also carrying that’s meant to test how yeast responds to radiation. Researchers plan to store freeze-dried yeast underneath one of the Orion crew seats, and then expose the yeast to fluid over the course of three days in space. Once Orion lands back on Earth, scientists will analyze the yeast’s DNA to study how it fared. The experiment could yield insight into how humans might stay healthy in space during future trips.
A version of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is hitching a ride, too. NASA is testing Callisto, a combination of customized hardware and software that Amazon, Cisco, and Lockheed Martin designed . The test will enable mission control to send audio and video messages to a tablet aboard the Orion capsule, where a version of Alexa will receive the message and share a response. While the tech might sound a little like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the engineers say the system is meant to provide assistance and companionship.“Callisto is a standalone payload onboard the Orion spacecraft, and it does not have any control over flight control or other mission-critical systems,” said Justin Nikolaus, a lead Alexa experience designer at Amazon, in August. Other aspects of Artemis I’s payload are more sentimental. A plush doll version of the Shaun the Sheep character from the Wallace and Gromit franchise will travel on Orion. So will a outfitted in an astronaut costume, along with a pen nib that Charles M. Schultz used to draw the Peanuts series, wrapped in a comic strip. Mementos from the , which landed the first humans on the lunar surface in the 1960s, are also going, including a tiny sample of moon dust and a piece of an engine.
Beyond the moonSome of Artemis I’s most important research projects won’t be returning to Earth anytime soon. The mission includes plans to launch 10 miniature satellites, called CubeSats, into the moon’s orbit. These satellites will collect data that NASA, along with private companies, could eventually use to navigate on and around the moon. One satellite, , will study the safety of the lunar surface with infrared imaging, producing information that could influence where . One satellite, called , will attempt to detect lunar sources of water, which NASA could eventually use as a resource. Another satellite, , will head to a small, nearby asteroid, a side trip that could inform future crewed missions to other asteroids. The satellites will be launched by another component, called the Orion Stage Adapter, only after the spacecraft is .
Update, November 16, 10:40 am: This story was originally published on August 27 and has been updated with NASA’s successful launch the Artemis 1 mission on November 16.