NASA finally launches 1st Moon mission since 1972

MIAMI, 16 Nov 2022:

NASA successfully launched its unmanned Artemis I mission to the Moon from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral today – after four failed attempts in August and September.

The towering Space Launch System rocket, which stands 98m (332 feet) tall, with its Orion spacecraft, lifted off into the night sky at 1.47am local time (0647 GMT).

This was the space agency’s fourth attempt to launch the first lunar mission mounted by the US since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The first try, on Aug 29, was called off due to a problem with a sensor, while a launch set for Sept 3 was scrubbed after NASA detected a hydrogen leak.

Officials subsequently rescheduled the launch for Sept 27, but had to postpone because of the threat of bad weather and subsequently moved the rocket and spacecraft back inside the Vehicle Assembly Building as Hurricane Ian was approaching Florida.

The Artemis mission aims to return humans to the Moon for the first time in half a century, and pave the way for building a lunar base that would serve as a launchpad for exploring Mars.

During the Artemis I mission, NASA will test the SLS, the most powerful rocket system in the agency’s history, which was built at a cost of US$4 billion.

The Orion spacecraft has the capacity to carry four astronauts into space – one more than the Apollo – and stores enough oxygen and water to fuel a 20-day mission.

After separating from the SLS rocket system, the Orion capsule will travel some 2.01 million kilometres (1.3 million miles) in its roundtrip to the Moon.

The three mannequins onboard the craft are equipped with sensors to send data back to Earth.

The Orion capsule will overfly the Moon’s surface at a distance of around 62 miles (nearly 100km) and also a distant lunar orbit some 61,000km from Earth’s satellite, farther than any manned mission in history.

Orion is set to return to Earth with a Pacific splashdown off the coast of San Diego. It will deploy 11 parachutes to slow its descent as it re-enters the atmosphere at an eye-watering speed of 40,000kph, reaching temperatures of 2,760°C (5,000°F).

The crewed Artemis II and Artemis III lunar missions are set for 2024 and 2025, respectively, as part of an ambitious program aimed at sending humans to Mars.

Japan launched the world’s smallest Moon lander OMOTENASHI on board the Artemis I mission rocket. At 11cm-long, 24cm-wide and 37cm-high, OMOTENASHI is one of the 10 CubeSat nanosatellites on the unmanned Artemis I mission.

These nanosatellites will conduct different scientific investigations, as a part of the mission that aims to pave the way for a future lunar base for astronauts.

OMOTENASHI could become Japan’s first Moon lander to touch the surface of the Moon, which is expected to happen in four or five days, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

OMOTENASHI will land on the Moon at a speed of 180kph, protected by shock absorbers, JAXA said.

Scientists behind the project believe there is a 60% chance of the device being able to successfully transmit radio waves to Earth from the Moon.

On Artemis I, OMOTENASHI – acronym for Outstanding MOon exploration TEchnologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor – was accompanied by another Japanese nanosatellite, EQUULEUS (EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft), which is expected to move towards the far side of the Moon.

This project also seeks to map the Earth’s plasmasphere to understand the area affected by radiation between the planet and its natural satellite.

This would help gain important information that may help protect humans and machines from solar radiation during space trips.

JAXA has been looking into an efficient way of reaching this orbital point, which could become an optimal base for advanced space missions.