The long-delayed launch of NASA’s mission to send humans back to the moon is finally upon us.
After four delays, Artemis 1 is scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral early Wednesday morning.
The two-hour launch window began at 1.04am local time (6.04am in the UK) as managers checked the Orion spacecraft in Florida hit by Hurricane Nicole last week.
The Orion and its accompanying Space Launch System rocket are believed to be ready, with both energized for launch as the clock ticks.
With the final preparations well underway, here’s what you need to know about the historic space event.
What did Artemis hope to achieve?
The mission consists of three phases.
The first is a 42-day unmanned flight around the moon. It will test the huge rocket and Orion spacecraft that the astronauts will eventually ride on.
In space, it will deploy 10 CubeSats (small satellites) that will perform a variety of jobs in deep space, from studying how radiation affects yeast DNA to searching for water ice on the moon.
Weather is a big focus of the test mission, with galactic cosmic rays posing the greatest risk to future crews.
The new Space Weather Center will study the solar wind—charged particles released from the sun—and solar flux (concentrated sunlight), as well as coronal mass ejections (massive ejections of plasma and magnetic fields from the top of the sun).
A new lunar vehicle will also combine the advantages of the historic Apollo rovers and Mars rovers, allowing astronauts to fly them both in person and remotely.
For more on science and technology, explore the future with Sky News at Big Ideas Live 2022.
Learn more and book tickets here
Orion will fly 60 miles above the nearest moon and enter Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 mph during its reentry in a few weeks before splashing down off the coast of California on October 10.
Cameras inside and outside Orion will share images and video throughout the mission.
If all goes according to plan, it will remain in space longer than any human spacecraft in history without the need for a docking station.
During Artemis 2, the crew will buckle up for the first time and blast off for more testing. So far, the four astronauts have not been named, but this phase is planned for 2024.
Lasting about eight to ten days, they will make a lunar flight before returning to Earth.
Humans will finally land on the moon again during Artemis 3, NASA Said the crew will include the first woman and people from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
The timetable depends on the progress of previous missions, but is currently set for 2025.
NASA hopes to establish a base camp and conduct annual missions, and use it as a testbed for more ambitious missions, starting with getting humans to Mars.
Any interesting facts about the mission?
Fans of ancient mythology will think the quest is named after the Greek moon goddess and the twin sister of Apollo. She is the goddess of hunting, the moon and chastity.
The Orion capsule — named after the constellation — will have nothing but a mannequin and a stuffed toy.
The model captain is known as Commander Moonikin Campos, and he will always be in the Commander’s seat.
The Snoopy stuffed toy will also float around the Orion capsule as a zero-G indicator.
Mannequins are on a mission to go “where no man (or woman) has been before”
Sky reporter David Blevins
Three mannequins are on the moon landing and other missions – Commanders Moonikin Campos, Helga and Zohar.
As they describe, these phantoms will play a key role in Artemis 1, the maiden voyage NASA plans to send humans back to the lunar surface.
Commander Moonikin Campos was voted on by the public to honor the engineer Arturo Campos who helped bring Apollo 13 back to Earth safely.
He will occupy the commander’s seat, wearing the Orion Crew Survival System suit and equipped with radiation, acceleration and vibration sensors.
In due course, a real-life astronaut would experience twice and a half gravity during ascent and four times as much gravity at two points during reentry.
Before Artemis 2, engineers plan to compare Artemis 1’s flight data with ground vibration tests that have been previously conducted on the same mannequin.
The two female mannequins, Helga, named by the German Aerospace Center, and Zohar, named by the Israel Space Agency, will point the way to history.
In 2025, NASA plans to put the first woman on the moon along with the first man from different ethnic backgrounds.
“The next set of boot prints our astronauts leave on the moon will belong to a woman,” said Charlie Blackwell Thompson, the female launch commander of Artemis 1.
“There are no boundaries, no limits,” she added.
Both female body models are made from materials that mimic female soft tissue, organs, bones, lungs and brain tissue to test how radiation travels through the body.
The torso has more than 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors used to measure radiation exposure within different organs during the mission.
Zohar will be wearing AstroRad, a radiation vest, while Helga will be unprotected.
Orion, the command module, will fly within 60 miles of the Moon and then 40,000 miles, farther than any previous spacecraft.
In order to establish a permanent lunar base, humans could one day land on Mars, marking the dawn of a new era of space exploration.
If all goes according to plan, this will be one small step for three mannequins, one giant leap for humanity.
How powerful is the Artemis 1 rocket?
The 98-meter-long Space Launch System (SLS) is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, and in this critical phase of testing, it will fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans: 40,000 miles from the far side of the moon and from Earth 280,000 miles.
The giant rocket launched with 8.8 million pounds of thrust 13 percent more than the space shuttle and 15 percent more than the Saturn V rocket used in the Apollo missions.
Each of the two boosters generates more thrust than 14 four-engine commercial airliners and will launch for 126 seconds, providing more than 75 percent of the vehicle’s thrust before they take off, according to NASA.
It’s also powered by four RS-25 engines, and a trip to the moon would take days.
When was the last time humans landed on the moon?
About 50 years ago: It was Apollo 17 in December 1972—about three and a half years after Neil Armstrong made history with his first moon landing.
The last three Apollo missions were canceled and NASA cut funding as President Kennedy’s big goals came to fruition.
NASA hopes Artemis will see humans return to the moon in 2025 — but that will be the third part of a launch trilogy that begins this week.
While Artemis 1 will be unmanned, Artemis 2 — currently expected to launch in 2024 — will see humans launch into space, orbiting the perimeter of the moon before returning home. This will be the deepest human entry into space.
Artemis 3 will come after this and will see the first woman on the moon.