A team from the aerospace agency NASA has successfully launched the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. The first launch attempt was scheduled for August 2022, but the event was constantly postponed due to regularly occurring problems. After several postponements, one of the most important rockets in the history of astronautics took off on the morning of 16 November - an event which can be considered the beginning of the US Artemis programme to return humans to the Moon. With the return of the Orion spacecraft, NASA will begin preparing for the next phases of the programme, in which astronauts will land on the Moon and begin construction of the Gateway lunar lander. Let's refresh your memory and recall the essence of Artemis 1 and subsequent missions that space enthusiasts will be following over the next few years.
The start of the Artemis 1 mission
The Artemis 1 mission was due to begin in August but the launch was postponed due to a liquid hydrogen leak during the first stage refueling of the SLS launcher. Launches on 29 August and 3 September were cancelled for the same reason. Since then, the start of NASA's new lunar programme has been hampered by bad weather, most notably Hurricane Nicole. Strong winds slightly damaged the Orion spacecraft's airtight seal, but the overall structure was unscathed. After another postponement on 14 November, technicians decided that enough delay was enough - the launch on 16 November 2022 was definitely going to happen, no matter what.
Launch of the Orion spacecraft to the Moon
As expected, the launch of the SLS booster carrying the Orion spacecraft took place on November 16, at 09:48 a.m. Moscow time. The launch site was Launch Pad 39B, located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Inside the Orion spacecraft are two dummies, ten small satellites to study the space around the moon, as well as several strains of fungi, seeds, yeast and photosynthetic algae to study the effects of space on them. As part of the first phase of Artemis, the spacecraft will automatically orbit the Moon several times before returning to Earth on December 11, 2022. If all goes well, it will land in the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
After the return of Orion, NASA experts will remove the dummies and examine the data collected by the sensors embedded in them. They will learn how space travel may affect the health of people who travel to the Moon. What they are most interested in is how the astronauts will be affected by space radiation - if severely, they will have to think about additional protective equipment.
Phases of the Artemis space programme
After Orion lands, preparations for the next phases of the Artemis programme will begin.
The Artemis 2 mission is planned for May 2024. It will last about 10 days - the Orion spacecraft will make the same orbit around the Moon, but with four astronauts on board.
The Artemis 3 mission is planned for 2025. It will last approximately 30 days. In its frameworks six astronauts will fly into space - four will stay in orbit, and two will land on the surface of the Moon with the help of SpaceX Starship.
The Artemis 4 mission is planned for 2027. It will last about a month, during which four astronauts will deliver the I-HAB module to the near-lunar Gateway station, which does not yet exist.
The Artemis 5 mission is due to take place in 2028. It will involve an unknown number of astronauts delivering the ESPRIT refueling module to Gateway and landing on the moon with the lunar rover.
The Artemis 6 mission is planned for the same year 2028. In its framework, an airlock module will be delivered to the station.
All in all, the Artemis space programme promises to last a long time. The most interesting thing should happen in 2025, when astronauts will take new steps on the surface of the Moon - it will be a very important historical event. It should be noted that the dates for the Artemis phases are sure to change.