NASA unveils spacecraft to carry four people to the moon

This is the spacecraft that NASA will launch to the moon. For the first time since 1972, four astronauts will orbit Earth’s natural satellite.

The Orion spacecraft, which will be used for the space agency’s Artemis 2 mission to orbit the moon, was checked last week at the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Artemis 2 will be a 10-day test flight that will launch in September 2026 on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. It will be the first time astronauts have gone into space on an SLS, which delivers more than two million pounds of thrust, NASA said.

Core phase

An image of the 212-foot SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans was released last month. The stage’s two fuel tanks hold a combined 733,000 gallons of liquid fuel to power four RS-25 engines at its base. It will soon be en route, by ship, to KSC.

Artemis 2 is the successor to Artemis 1, which flew past the moon in late 2022, but without astronauts on board.

Solar eclipse

Artemis 2 is the first of three crewed missions to the Moon and will test Orion’s life support systems with four astronauts on board.

After launching from Pad 39B at KSC, Orion will orbit Earth twice before settling into a highly elliptical orbit. About 24 hours later, the crew will experience a brief eclipse of the sun by the moon before performing what rocket scientists call translunar injection, a maneuver that sends the spacecraft on an unstoppable journey to orbit the moon.

Artemis 2 will not see any of its four crew members land on the moon. Like the 1968 Apollo 8 mission, the first time humans left Earth’s orbit, Artemis 2 will make a flyby of the moon. Orion, however, will also travel 4,600 miles beyond the far side of the moon.

After returning to Earth, Orion will land in the Pacific Ocean.

Crew prepares

The Orion test comes the same week that NASA announced astronaut Andre Douglas as a backup crew member for Artemis 2. He will train with the four crew members already selected for the mission: NASA’s Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover and Christina Koch, and Jeremy Hansen of the Canadian Space Agency. Hansen’s backup is Jenni Gibbons.

Artemis 2 is a precursor mission to Artemis 3, which is planned to be the program’s second crewed mission and the first crewed lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Walking on the moon

During Artemis 3, two astronauts will descend to the surface on a lander provided by SpaceX, likely to touch down at Shackleton Crater, near the moon’s south pole. The names of the two astronauts have yet to be announced, but NASA has said it plans to land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface.

In May, Douglas and NASA colleague Kate Rubins conducted four moonwalk simulations for Artemis 3 at the San Francisco Volcanic Field, a volcanic field on the lunar surface of northern Arizona.

Artemis missions are planned for every year after 2030. Artemis 5, 6, and either 7 or 8 are also planned to take astronauts to the lunar surface.

I wish you clear skies and big eyes.

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