“Artemis” mission begins: to the Moon, to Mars

"Artemis" mission begins: to the Moon, to Mars

Status: 08/28/2022 at 7:44 PM

NASA wants to send a rocket to the Moon with “Artemis 1” on Monday for the first time in nearly 50 years. It could propel American spacecraft into deep space – but what if the mission fails?

By Kerstin Klein, ARD Studio Washington

There’s no shortage of superlatives in this mission: the world’s most powerful rocket, the farthest manned flight ever, the space capsule’s longest stay in space without docking. In tests, NASA has proved it is ready to return to the Moon – but on Monday it must show that what it has built and built will work in the harsh realities of space.

kerstin klein
ARD studio Washington

At approximately 2:30 pm German time, the two-hour start window opens. Then a carrier rocket specifically for this mission called the “Space Launch System,” or SLS for short, must take off and bring the Orion space capsule sitting on top into space.

Does the heat shield hold?

The spacecraft is scheduled to fly to the Moon in about two weeks, orbiting it several times for about two weeks, finally returning to Earth and landing in the Pacific on October 10. The mission is planned for 42 days.

NASA not only wants to test whether the rocket can be successfully launched and the spacecraft can be successfully brought to the Moon. The last part is particularly important: Will the Orion capsule return safely? Will the heat shield wear off when it enters the Earth’s atmosphere? Because people should already be sitting in the Orion capsule on the next mission.

Astronauts are in lunar orbit again for the first time since 1972, with “Artemis 2” in 2024. People with “Artemis 3” should set foot on the moon again in 2025 as soon as possible – among them the first woman and the first person of color. So far 12 people have walked on the moon. All American, all white male.

A “Moon to Mars Mission”

And Americans not only want to go back to the Moon – they call the “Artemis” program a “Moon to Mars mission.” With European and other partners, a space station is already being built that will orbit the Moon permanently in a few years. “Gateway” is the name of the project and is a type of ISS, just short. The spacecraft should be able to dock there and the crew should be able to make a stopover on their way to the Moon.

The “gateway” to the United States on its way to Mars should also be a stopover. Before being sent deeper into space, spacecraft bound for Mars can be tested relatively close to Earth. Because the Moon’s gravitational pull is much less than Earth’s – you can escape it more easily. The effects of cosmic radiation on the human body also need to be researched in greater detail before people can be sent to Mars. Mars is expected in the late 2030s or early 2040s at the earliest. Goal: Be faster than China.

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controversial mission

The “Artemis” mission is not undeniable. Notably, launch vehicle development has been delayed several times, and costs have exploded. Overall, the mission is expected to cost $93 billion by 2025. According to NASA, the cost of a single “Artemis” launch is US$4.1 billion. This alone makes it clear: The opening of “Artemis 1” should not be mistaken under any circumstances.

If it succeeds, it could propel American spacecraft into deep space – if it fails, it could mean the end of long-standing NASA ambitions. It follows that NASA will take no risk. If a problem occurs before the announced start at 2:33 pm on Monday German time or if the weather does not cooperate, the start will be postponed. Other possible start days are September 2 and 5.

On the other hand, NASA is preparing a really big train station for Monday. US Vice President Kamala Harris will arrive and deliver a speech. Herbie Hancock will play the national anthem and star cellist Yo-Yo Ma will perform “America the Beautiful” with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

According to NASA, so far everything is going according to plan. But in the end she will put caution before speed. Because there’s one thing she can’t stand: Everything doesn’t work out when you start over.

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