NASA's most powerful rocket lifts off 50 years after Apollo

NASA’s most powerful rocket lifts off 50 years after Apollo

NASA’s New Moon rocket took off for its first flight with three experimental dummies on board early Wednesday.

NASA’s new moon rocket took off for its maiden voyage with three experimental dummies on board early Wednesday, bringing the United States a huge step closer to returning astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the end of the Apollo program 50 years ago.

If all goes well during the three-week shakedown flight, the rocket will propel an empty crew capsule into a wide lunar orbit, then the capsule will return to Earth with a touchdown in the Pacific Ocean in December. .

After years of delays and cost overruns in the billions, the Space Launch System rocket blasted upward from Kennedy Space Center with 8.8 million pounds (4 million kilograms) of thrust and reached 100 mph (160 km/h) in a matter of seconds. The Orion capsule was placed on top, ready to launch from Earth’s orbit towards the Moon two hours after the launch of the flight.

The satellite launch comes nearly three months after an alarming fuel leak that kept the rocket bouncing between the hangar and the platform. After Hurricane Ian forced it back indoors at the end of September, the Rocket stood its ground outside as it swept Nicole last week with gusts of more than 80 mph (130 km/h). Although winds blew a 10-foot (3 m) strip of dam up high near the capsule, managers gave the go-ahead for the launch.

NASA expected 15,000 people to crowd the launch site, with thousands more lining the beaches and roads outside the gates, to witness NASA’s long-awaited sequel to Project Apollo, when 12 astronauts walked on the moon in 1969 and 1972. Crowds also gathered outside the centers NASA in Houston and Huntsville, Alabama, to watch the spectacle on giant screens.

Cheers accompanied the rocket as it rode a beam of flame towards space, with half moons glowing brightly and buildings shaking as if they had been hit by a great earthquake.

β€œFor the generation of Artemis, this is for you,” says launch manager Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, referring to all those born after Apollo.

The liftoff marked the beginning of NASA’s lunar exploration program, Artemis, named after Apollo’s legendary twin sister. The space agency aims to send four astronauts around the moon on the next trip, in 2024, and to land humans there as early as 2025.

“You’ve earned your place in history,” Blackwell-Thompson told her team after the liftoff. The first is to return our country to the moon and then to Mars.

The 322-foot (98-meter) SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, with more thrust than the space shuttle or the mighty Saturn V that carried men to the moon. A series of hydrogen fuel leaks plagued summer launch attempts as well as countdown tests. A new leak developed in a new location during fueling on Tuesday night, but the emergency team was able to tighten the faulty valve on the pad. Then a US Space Force radar station malfunctions, prompting another rush, this time to replace the ethernet switch.

Gemini should reach the moon by Monday, more than 230,000 miles (370,000 km) from Earth. After coming within 80 miles (130 kilometers) of the Moon, the capsule will enter a distant orbit that will extend beyond 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers).

The $4.1 billion test flight is scheduled to last 25 days, about the same amount of time the crews will be on board. The space agency intends to push the spacecraft to its limits and detect any problems before the astronauts get involved. The mannequins β€” which NASA calls moonequins β€” are equipped with sensors to measure things like vibration, acceleration, and cosmic radiation.

“There is a fair amount of risk in this initial flight test,” said Mission Director Mike Saravin.

The rocket was supposed to be operational on land by 2017. Government observers estimate that NASA will spend $93 billion on the project by 2025.

Ultimately, NASA hopes to establish a base on the Moon and send astronauts to Mars by the late 2030s or early 40s.

But there are still many obstacles to be removed. The Orion capsule will only take astronauts to lunar orbit, not the surface.

NASA has hired Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop the Starship, the 21st century answer to the Apollo moon lander. The Starship will ferry astronauts back and forth between Orion and the lunar surface, at least for the first flight in 2025. The plan is to have the Starship station and eventually other companies’ landers in orbit around the Moon, ready for use when new Orion crews pull away.

Recreating an argument made during the 1960s, Alex Rowland, a Duke University historian, questions the value of human spaceflight, arguing that robots and remotely controlled spacecraft could get the job done at a lower cost, efficiency, and safety.

“In all these years, no evidence has emerged to justify the investment we’ve made in human spaceflight – except for the prestige involved in this apparent consumption,” he said.

NASA is waiting until this test flight is over before presenting the astronauts who will be on the next flight and those who will follow in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s footsteps for Apollo 11.

Most of NASA’s corps of 42 active astronauts and 10 cadets hadn’t even been born yet when Apollo 17 moonwalkers Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed the era, 50 years ago next month.

“We are jumping out of our spacesuits with excitement,” said astronaut Christina Koch on Tuesday.

After a nearly year-long space station mission and an all-female spacewalk, Koch, 43, is on NASA’s shortlist for a trip to the moon. So is astronaut Kayla Barron, 35, who finally watched her first rocket launch, not counting her own a year ago.

“It took my breath away, and I was crying,” Barron said. “What an amazing achievement for this team.”

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