Miami, Mar 17 (EFE).- NASA on Thursday began a general rehearsal for the launch of the first mission in the new Artemis program, which is designed to prepare for US astronauts to return to the Moon with an eye toward establishing a future colony there.
As part of the test, NASA will move the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion crew capsule mounted at the top, from the assembly center to Launch Platform 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, on Florida’s Atlantic coast about 220 miles north of Miami.
Starting at 5 pm on Thursday, a “caterpillar” transport vehicle with the huge rocket and crew capsule on board will move over a road for 4.2 mi. from the hangar to the launch platform at a speed of 1 mi. per hour.
Together, the SLS and the Orion capsule are more then 322 feet long, taller than the Statue of Liberty, and weigh 5.75 million pounds, making moving the rocket, mounted vertically the entire time, a delicate operation.
The rocket and the capsule were assembled at the Kennedy Space Center in a complicated process that ended on Oct. 21, 2021.
Calculations are that the caterpillar transport vehicle will take about six hours to move the rocket to the launch pad and then it will be tested, the rocket’s fuel tanks will be filled and a launch countdown test will be conducted.
The entire process should last about 12 hours.
Once the test is completed, the rocket and capsule will be taken to a new assembly building for final testing before the historic launch of the Artemis I mission.
The central portion of the rocket – 212 feet high and with a diameter of 27.6 feet) – was constructed by Boeing, the aerospace firm that also created the rocket’s in-flight control system.
That section of the rocket will contain 730,000 gallons of super-cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that power the rocket’s four RS-25 engines that will boost it into space.
According to a NASA document, the SLS has enough power to accelerate the Orion capsule to the speed required for it to reach the Moon, some 24,500 miles per hour.
Orion was built by Lockheed Martin to carry astronauts “farther than ever” and to bring them back safely to Earth.
The uncrewed Artemis I mission will be the first comprehensive flight test of all its deep-space exploration systems, and it will open to the door to a series of ever-more-complicated missions, with astronauts traveling to the Moon on the third one, which will not take place until at least 2025.
The last NASA mission during which astronauts set foot on the Moon was Apollo 17, which took place from Dec. 7-19, 1972, and broke a number of records, including the longest lunar excursion and bringing back to Earth the largest amount of lunar rock and soil samples.
The official date for the Artemis I launch will be set after Thursday’s fuel circulation rehearsal.
On this first mission, the Orion capsule will attain an elliptical orbit that will take it some 280,000 miles from Earth, at its farthest point, some 40,000 miles beyond the Moon.
The Artemis II mission, scheduled for May 2024, will be one on which astronauts will orbit the Moon and Artemis III will be the one which will land astronauts on the Moon, a crew that will include a woman and a person of color, according to what NASA has promised.
The objective of the Artemis program is to set up a base for the human exploration of deep space – which in this context simply means moving beyond the Moon, but within the Solar System – and to help establish a long-term presence on the Moon and beyond, according to statements released by the US space agency.
Last November, NASA administrator Bill Nelson announced plans to resume crewed missions to the Moon in 2024, but later that schedule was pushed back until 2025 due to technical problems.
The Chinese are moving very “aggressively” in space, but Nelson said at the time that the US wants to be the first nation to return to the Moon “after more than half a century.”