It’s finally happening: On Monday, August 29, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket is set to launch for the first time, boosting an uncrewed Orion capsule on a journey to the Moon. This crucial first mission in the Artemis program is part of the preparation to send astronauts to the Moon later this decade.
The Artemis 1 mission is scheduled for liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, with a two-hour launch window that begins Monday at 8:33 a.m. ET. The 322-foot-tall (98-meter) SLS megarocket will deliver the Orion crew capsule (which contains only manikins for this first mission) to orbit; from there, Orion will make a 42-day journey to the Moon and back.
NASA will begin its live coverage of the event at 6:30 a.m. ET (with coverage in Spanish starting at 7:30 a.m. ET). You can watch on the space agency’s YouTube channel, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. You can also tune in through the feed below.
The launch countdown to the main event starts on Saturday at 10:23 a.m. ET, and it will feature briefings by NASA officials. On Monday, starting at 12:00 a.m. ET, eager viewers can tune in to watch space engineers load propellant into the rocket.
The live broadcast will feature celebrity guests Keke Palmer, Jack Black, and Chris Evans, as well as a performance of the U.S. national anthem by Josh Groban and Herbie Hancock. The Philadelphia Orchestra and cellist Yo-Yo Ma will also perform “America the Beautiful.”
The SLS rocket is currently sitting on Launchpad 39B, outfitted with the Orion capsule on top. For the launch, SLS will boost the uncrewed capsule to orbit, from where it will travel on its own to make a close flyby of the Moon before returning to Earth. Orion will travel a total of 1.3 million miles before it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego after spending 42 days in space. One of the main goals of the mission is to test Orion’s heat shield during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere—a task that much less stressful when there are no living crew members onboard.
Although there won’t be a human crew, Orion is taking off with three manikins, named Campos, Helga, and Zohar. Campos will be wearing a standard Orion spacesuit and measure vibrations, g-forces, and radiation throughout the 42-day journey. Helga and Zohar are designed to test the effect of space radiation on women in particular, since women are more vulnerable to the risks posed by the effects of radiation. Another notable crew member will be Shaun the Sheep, or rather a toy version of the stop-motion character, as well as a Snoopy dog doll that will be used to indicate weightlessness on the spacecraft.
Artemis 1 will set the stage for Artemis 2 and 3. Artemis 2, currently slated for launch in 2024, will send a human crew to the Moon, but they won’t land on the lunar surface. The main event, Artemis 3, which NASA hopes to launch by late 2025, aims to land a man and a woman on the Moon—the first time humans have stepped foot there since 1972. All of this is in support of an even grander project, which will be to eventually send humans to Mars.