We’re about to find out if NASA still has the right stuff. On Monday morning, Aug. 29th at 8:33 am EDT, the most powerful rocket ever built will blast off from Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39B. Destination: the Moon. This is the beginning of NASA’s Artemis program, named after the twin sister of Apollo.
Artemis I will not carry any astronauts. It’s a test flight. In fact, it’s the only test flight, a controversial decision that worries some experts. Astronauts will ride the next rocket, Artemis II, in 2024. NASA will have two years to fix any problems uncovered by Artemis I.
Propelled by a 32-story tall rocket with 8.8 million pounds of thrust, Artemis I will exit Earth’s atmosphere in only 2 minutes. Less than 2 hours after that, the unoccupied Orion crew capsule will be burning straight for the Moon.
Over the course of the 42 day mission, Orion will orbit the Moon for more than a week (approaching the lunar surface within 62 miles) and travel 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the Moon before turning back to Earth.
The capsule will stay in space longer than any human spacecraft has without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before. Indeed, a key goal of the mission is to test Orion’s heat shield when it slams into Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 mph and heats up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
If all goes well, future launches will carry crew. Astronauts will orbit the Moon in 2024 (Artemis II), then touch down near the Moon’s south pole in 2025 (Artemis III). The moonwalkers will include the first woman to step onto the lunar surface.
Live coverage of the launch begins on Monday, Aug. 29th, at 6:30 am EDT: https://www.nasa.gov/nasalive