NASA has taken a major step toward the highly anticipated maiden launch of its mega moon rocket.
The space agency this week named three dates in late August and early September that currently offer ideal conditions for the launch of its mighty Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft as part of the Artemis I mission.
At a briefing on July 20, NASA officials cited August 29, September 2, and September 5 as possible launch dates for the mission, which will involve the Orion spacecraft performing a flyby of the moon before returning to Earth. The selected launch date is likely to be confirmed about a week prior to liftoff.
The mission duration will vary depending on the date, NASA said. So if the SLS launches on August 29 or September 5, the mission will last 42 days, while a September 2 launch will see Orion return 39 days later.
Following the completion of a recent ground-based test involving the SLS rocket, technicians are now making final adjustments to the vehicle in preparation for launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight to test both the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, while Artemis II will take the same path but with a crew on board. Artemis III, which could take place as early as 2025, will aim to put the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the moon in what would be the first astronaut lunar landing in five decades.
NASA’s Artemis program heralds a new era of human space exploration, and involves plans for a long-term lunar presence that could serve as a stepping stone for the first crewed missions to Mars.
The SLS will be one of the most powerful rockets ever to launch, capable of delivering 8.8 million pounds of thrust, 15% more than the 7.5 million pounds offered by the Saturn V, which powered the first astronauts toward the moon in the Apollo missions 50 years ago.
For an idea of the kind of power that will be on display during the SLS’s first launch, take a look at this NASA video showing a ground-based test that involved firing all four of the rocket’s engines at the same time, as if for an actual launch.
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