Artemis I, the first mission in NASA's new effort to the return to the moon, is scheduled for launch at 5:04pm Australian eastern daylight saving time on Wednesday. This will be the third attempt, but the fifth time it has been rescheduled.
The Artemis program is NASA's name for its return to the moon missions. In Greek mythology, Artemis was the sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon. And the saga of getting Artemis I to launch has been befitting of an ancient Greek tragedy.
The Artemis missions will use the Space Launch System, or SLS - NASA's new rocket. The SLS uses a combination of liquid hydrogen and oxygen to power it into space.
When launched, it will be the most powerful rocket ever, standing 98 metres tall, and 15 per cent more power (thrust) than the Saturn V, the rocket used during the Apollo missions. It will be able to send nearly 40 tonnes of stuff to the moon - capsules, cargo, and eventually astronauts, about the maximum a truck can carry on the road. Artemis I was originally scheduled for launch on August 29. However, during the countdown, one of the engines wasn't cooling down properly. If the engine is too warm, this can cause issues with the fuel and reactions, leading to catastrophic consequences.
After looking at the data, NASA determined it was a fault in the temperature sensor. There was also a small leak of liquid hydrogen. A work around was to fill up a bit slower, hoping this would help both the sensor and the fuel leak.
Nearly a week later, NASA had their second attempt at launch. For a while, the workaround to filling the tanks up slower was working. However, eventually a major fuel leak emerged, one that could not be fixed. It meant they had to delay, and replace the seals around the hose to prevent the problem.
NASA worked fast to get the seal replaced. There is a limited amount of time the rocket and can stay at the launch pad before needing to be wheeled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building, essentially the rocket's hangar. This is for safety reasons and schedule reasons - other missions need to launch as well, such as the SpaceX Crew-5 mission which launched early October.
After replacing the seal, and testing it, NASA was ready for the third attempt. Then Hurricane Ian came through the Caribbean, devasting countries like Cuba before making landfall in Florida. For safety reasons, NASA did not attempt the launch, and instead moved the rocket back to the VAB and wait until recovery from the hurricane could commence.
NASA rescheduled the launch for November 14. However, with Hurricane Nicole just having made landfall in the US, NASA needed to reschedule.
Now, November 16 is the next date up. NASA has had to deal with temperature sensors, fuel leaks, and devastating hurricanes. Soon though, Artemis will soar to the moon.
- Brad Tucker is an astrophysicist and cosmologist at Mount Stromlo Observatory and the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australia National University.
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