The historic kickoff to humanity’s return to the Moon is all set for launch. NASA’s Artemis 1 mission just completed its flight readiness review on Monday, with the space agency giving it the final “go” for an August 29 launch.
NASA officials held a meeting to discuss the technical details related to the launch of Artemis 1, saying they’ve cleared the mission for a two-hour launch window that opens at 8:33 a.m. ET on August 29. There are two backup windows also available on September 2 and September 5. “We are go for launch, which is absolutely outstanding,” NASA associate administrator Robert Cabana told reporters at a press conference Monday night, as reported by Spaceflight Now. “This day has been a long time coming.”
The Space Launch System (SLS) is currently resting tall on launchpad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SLS will attempt to deliver the Orion capsule to space, where it will make a close flyby of the Moon and return to Earth at the conclusion of its 42-day trip. A key objective of the mission is to test Orion’s heat shield during reentry through Earth’s atmosphere, a task that’ll be considerably less stressful to achieve given there’s no actual crew on board.
A few lingering issues still exist prior to the launch of Artemis 1. Earlier this year, the 322-foot-tall (98-meter) rocket underwent four wet dress rehearsals that didn’t exactly go as planned, yet the agency issued the green light for launch despite the imperfect practice sessions and an unresolved hydrogen leak. Ahead of its launch, SLS will still need to thermally condition its engines by performing a hydrogen kickstart, a step that couldn’t be tested during the wet dress rehearsals. During the press conference, NASA officials said they’ll test the hydrogen kickstart once the core stage’s hydrogen tank is filled a few hours before launch, according to Space News. Should NASA fail to complete that test on the day of launch, the agency will announce a scrub and try again at a later date.
Artemis 1 is the first integrated test flight of SLS and Orion, setting the stage for the launch of the subsequent Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 missions. Artemis 2, which NASA hopes to launch in 2024, will have a crew on board but won’t land on the surface on the Moon. That’s reserved for the main event, Artemis 3, in which NASA seeks to land a man and the first woman on the Moon by late 2025.
The initiation of the Artemis era is set to draw a huge crowd, with more than 100,000 visitors expected to gather for the inaugural launch of the SLS rocket at Kennedy Space Center and areas from which the launch will be seen.