The mission is not yet complete. What is wrong with Artemis 1 and will people be able to return to the moon
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Another attempt to send the first unmanned mission to the Moon, not crowned with success. But NASA is optimistic.
The moon is still a place where only autonomous spacecraft operate. The last time astronauts landed on an Earth satellite was at the end of 1972. Since 1969, 12 American men have landed on the moon as part of the Apollo space program. In 2020, NASA unveiled a new space program called Artemis (“Artemis”), after the sister of the ancient Greek god Apollo. This program is designed for 3 stages and NASA plans to return to the Moon with a manned mission as early as 2025. Then the first woman and the first person of non-European origin should fly to the moon. But recent events suggest that NASA's plans may need to be adjusted.
In order to fly to the moon, you need a very powerful rocket, the same as the Saturn-5 launch vehicle that launched spacecraft under the Apollo program 50 years ago. And of course, we need a modern spacecraft that would allow astronauts to feel normal in space with the ability to be there during long space flights.
The new spacecraft, which was named “Orion”, was launched by NASA back in 2003, and the new most powerful launch vehicle in the world called the Space Launch System – in 2011. This booster is designed to send the Orion spacecraft on its first flight around the moon, but so far without a crew.
The flight to the moon that never happened
This first flight was scheduled for August 29, 2022. This mission itself was called Artemis 1 by NASA, and the next missions, Artemis 2 and Artemis 3, should include the first crewed spacecraft to fly around the moon in the 21st century and land the first people on the moon this century, respectively.
But due to technical problems, namely due to the leakage of liquid hydrogen fuel during refueling of one of the engines of the Space Launch System rocket, the Artemis-1 mission was canceled. The 98-meter booster with the spacecraft on its top was left standing on the launch pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center while engineers tried to figure out the problem.
Even before the launch, NASA said that if the launch does not happen, then the next attempt will be made on September 2. But after the unsuccessful launch of the rocket, it was decided to postpone the launch to September 3. While preparing for this launch, NASA engineers announced that they had eliminated all technical problems, but the final decision on a new launch was to be made only on September 3.
But a few hours before the relaunch of the Space Launch System rocket, a leak of hydrogen fuel was again discovered while refueling the rocket's engine. Engineers tried to fix the problem, but they did not succeed. Initially, NASA wanted to postpone the launch to September 5, but then it was decided to postpone the launch to the end of this month or even to the beginning or middle of October, writes The Guardian.
Why is the Artemis 1 mission so important?
- First, NASA wants to demonstrate that their technical achievements, which scientists have been working on for many years, were not in vain paid for by American taxpayers. According to preliminary estimates, the NASA lunar program has already cost the US budget $50 billion, and by 2025 this amount will grow to $98 billion.
- Secondly, NASA wants to repeat the success of the Apollo space program, but in a more expanded form. 50 years ago, astronauts simply explored the moon and took rock samples. Now, NASA plans not just to re-land a man on the moon, but to create a lunar base there on the surface and an outpost in orbit around the moon. This is necessary for the further colonization of the Earth's satellite, as well as the new NASA program provides for the use of the Moon as a staging post on the way to Mars.
- Thirdly, NASA needs to make sure that both the rocket and the spacecraft meet the technical tasks assigned to them and will be able to carry out reusable manned missions first to the Moon and then to Mars. It is important to know that as part of the first unmanned flight to the Moon, the Orion spacecraft will orbit the Earth's satellite in a very elongated orbit and, being at the farthest point from the Moon, will be the first such spacecraft to travel this far in space.
By the way, the last manned mission to the Moon was the Apollo 17 mission, which took place in December 1972. After that, NASA planned to send 3 more missions to the Earth satellite. But the US government felt that these missions were too expensive for the budget and they were cancelled. So far, nothing says that an unmanned flight to the moon will not take place in October. NASA promised to make every effort to make this launch happen.
Preliminarily, the next crewed launch to orbit the Moon was planned for 2024, and the first human landing itself was planned for 2025. The unsuccessful first launch of the Space Launch System rocket could affect these plans. It is worth noting that the first launch of this rocket was originally scheduled for 2019, so the Artemis program is already behind schedule and continues to do so.