June 4, 2023

If all goes according to plan, Monday, August 29, 2022, will see the most impressive rocket launch ever.

At 8:33 a.m. ET that day, a two-hour window opened for the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the most powerful rocket ever developed by NASA for more than a decade.

The Artemis-1 mission will see SLS take NASA’s Orion Crew Module and ESA’s European Service Module (ESM) to the Moon and back, a long-term mission unlike any other.

The only thing missing will be humans in this unmanned test flight, but there’s still a lot to be excited about. Here’s everything you need to know about Artemis-1:

1. It will launch with the most powerful rocket since 1973

With a thrust of 8.8 million pounds (3.9 million kilograms), the SLS is the world’s most powerful rocket launched since NASA’s last Saturn V “moon rocket” sent the Skylab space station into Earth orbit in 1973. It was arguably the most important flight ever. NASA since the first space shuttle launch on April 12, 1981.

SLS is controversial because it is so expensive. It’s often compared to SpaceX’s Starship, which has actually pledged to use it as a lunar lander for the Artemis-3 mission in 2025. SpaceX claims Starship will be more powerful, but it has yet to fly successfully. Development of the SLS began way back in 2014, before Starship. NASA and SpaceX are partners. This is not a game.

2. Snoopy will be responsible for weightlessness

The famous cartoon dog is going to space. We’ll know when the Orion spacecraft reaches space because a tiny Snoopy doll — wearing a NASA jumpsuit, of course — floats in front of the interior cameras. This isn’t Snoopy’s first space trip, he orbited Earth in the space shuttle in 1990. There is also a Shaun the Sheep doll on board, a veteran of multiple parabolic flights.

3. We’ll see ‘Moon Selfies’ and a new ‘Earthrise’

After launch, the spacecraft will enter low-Earth orbit, and then the rocket’s upper stage launch will bring it into lunar orbit. In a few days, it will fly by the moon. Thanks to the Orion spacecraft’s plethora of cameras on its spider-like solar array, we’re expecting a bunch of selfies, and – almost inevitably – the famous ‘Earthrise’ captured by the Apollo astronauts new version of .

4. It brings moon rocks back to the moon

When the Orion spacecraft reaches the moon, it will carry a plethora of memorabilia for education and future generations in its “official flight kit.” Perhaps the strangest of all is the little moon rock from Apollo 11, which was also on the last space shuttle flight in 2011. It will also fly the Apollo 8 Commemorative Medal, the Apollo 11 Mission Bolt and the Apollo 11 Patch.

5. Asteroid chasers will hitch a ride

Among the dozens of experiments and ride-sharing “CubeSats” on this launch, NEA Scout will be a shoebox-sized satellite that will travel by solar sail to near-Earth asteroids and take high-resolution photos. The target is 2020 GE, a near-Earth asteroid (NEA) discovered in 2020 and measuring less than 60 feet/18 meters.

Asteroids smaller than 330 feet/100 meters in diameter have never been explored at close range before. Objects like 2020 GE are common and, despite their small size, could still be a hazard to our planet.

6. If its release is delayed, it’s a four-day wait

If the launch is canceled on Monday, August 29, 2022, the next launch dates are Friday, September 2 and Monday, September 5. Blame the eclipse. The orbit of the solar Orion spacecraft cannot exceed 90 minutes or it will lose power completely. The next launch window after September 5 is September 19, 2022.

7. Orion will fly farther than any Apollo mission

In 1970, Apollo 13 carried three astronauts (Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Hayes) 280,000 miles/450,000 kilometers from Earth—a human record. Orion will use the Moon’s gravity to gain speed and propel itself 40,000 miles/64,000 kilometers beyond the Moon—about 30,000 miles/48,000 kilometers farther than Apollo 13. A repeat of Artemis-1, but of a shorter duration, Artemis-2 (scheduled for 2024) will see a crew of three astronauts reach the same distance as Earth.

May you have a clear sky and open your eyes.

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