NASA’s Artemis Lunar Rocket Launch Countdown Begins
The countdown to NASA’s Artemis I launch is underway for an expected liftoff from Florida’s Space Coast on Wednesday, although damage sustained during Hurricane Nicole may delay the rocket’s journey a little longer.
Like Hurricane Nicole did landing in Florida last Thursday, strong winds caused a 10-foot section of sealant to peel off near the crew capsule on top of the rocket, the Associated Press reported.
It’s the first test flight for the 322-foot rocket, scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 1:04 a.m. Wednesday — the crew capsule won’t be piloted by astronauts this time, and test dummies will occupy the space.
Mission managers fear that the peeled gasket, although tight, could damage the rocket if it breaks. They are expected to make a final decision on whether to proceed with the launch sometime Monday night, according to the AP.
“Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to build a long-term human presence on the Moon for decades to come,” NASA said on its website. “The primary objectives of Artemis I are to demonstrate the Orion systems in a spaceflight environment and to ensure safe re-entry, descent, drop and recovery prior to the first crewed flight of Artemis II.”
Over the course of 25 days, 11 hours and 36 minutes, the spacecraft will travel 1.3 million miles, and when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, it is expected to travel at 24,500 miles per hour, or Mach 32, before touching down on Dec. 11.
While in space, the spacecraft will orbit Earth, deploy solar arrays and an intermediate cryogenic propulsion stage, or ICPS, to gain enough propulsion to leave the planet’s orbit and travel to the Moon, NASA said on its website.
It will take several days to reach the moon, but once there it will fly 62 miles above the moon’s surface and use gravity to propel the Orion spacecraft about 40,000 miles from the moon into orbit.
It will then orbit the moon for six days before heading back to earth. After the spacecraft returns, it is expected to land off the coast of Baja, California.
The AP reported that the $4 billion monthly mission has been grounded since August due to a fuel leak and Hurricane Ian.
NASA moved the rocket to its hangar during Hurricane Ian, but it remained on the launch pad for Hurricane Nicole.
The last time NASA sent astronauts to the moon was during the last mission of the Apollo program in December 1972.