NASA’s Orion crew capsule is ready for its first Artemis lunar mission as the US space agency looks at taking astronauts back to the Moon by 2024, and further on to Mars in the distant future. Orion will be heading towards the lunar orbit by June 2020. The announcement was made as part of the 50th Moon Landing Anniversary celebrations, which took place on July 20, 2019.
According to an official press statement from NASA, the Artemis missions will ensure landings for the first woman and the next man on the Moon in the next five years with 2024 being the target for astronauts landing on the lunar surface. Eventually, the Artemis missions will help pave the way for NASA’s future missions to Mars.
“Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight,” US Vice-President Mike Pence said on the announcement.
Read more: The moon and us
Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed mission, which means it won’t have any passengers on board. Artemis 2, which is expected to take off in 2022 will have an actual crew, though it will not be landing on the Moon, but will take the crew around the Moon. Artemis 3 is expected to bring the astronauts to the lunar surface in 2024.
Artemis 4, which is expected to take place in 2025, a year after the astronauts land, will see NASA working with US industry and international partners to “develop a sustainable human lunar presence.”
Artemis 1 Mission
As part of the Artemis 1 Mission, NASA will launch the Orion spacecraft on its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket around the Moon. This mission test the system and pave the way for future astronaut landings on the moon.
NASA said that during Artemis 1, “SLS will send the uncrewed spacecraft – consisting of the crew and service modules – thousands of miles past the Moon for the first in a series of increasingly complex missions.”
Artemis 2 will be the first of the new missions to the Moon with astronauts on board, while Artemis 3 will see astronauts landing on the lunar surface. According to NASA, “engineers recently completed building and outfitting the Orion crew module” and the “underlying structure of the crew module, which is known as the pressure vessel, was manufactured at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.”
NASA is also getting support from the European Space Agency (ESA), as the Orion will have a European Service Module, which will provide power and propulsion to the spacecraft during the mission. This is also complete.
NASA said its engineers have started operations to join the crew module to the service module. Once the two modules are joined, engineers will install a heatshield backshell panel on the spacecraft and prepare it for a September test flight in Ohio. This test flight will check whether the two modules can withstand the deep space environment.
When this testing is complete, the spacecraft will return to Kennedy for final processing and inspections The final launch will take place from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida from Launch Pad 39B in 2020.
According to NASA’s press statement, 50 years ago the goal was to prove that the agency could land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth, but in 2024, the return to Moon is actually to prepare for the next big leap, which would be sending astronauts to Mars for the first time ever.
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