‘Exceeded expectations:’ NASA looks toward Artemis II crewed mission after phase one success

Artemis II mission with astronauts planned for 2024

ORLANDO, Fla. – NASA is still combing through the data, but so far, officials are very pleased with what they’ve learned from last year’s Artemis I mission.

“We’ve continued to see outstanding performance from SLS, outstanding data met all our expectations. In fact, exceeded most of them,” said SLS Program Manager John Honeycutt during a news conference Tuesday.

The Space Launch System rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center in November with the Orion capsule on top, sending Orion to orbit the moon before splashing down into the Pacific Ocean nearly a month later.

“You know, we got as close as 8 miles to the surface (of the moon) and we traveled farther than any human spacecraft has gone before,” said Howard Hu, manager of the Orion Program. “Two-hundred thousand miles from Earth, so that was quite an accomplishment. We got pictures that I think inspire the world and certainly brought big smiles to what we were able to see from that mission.”

The mission marked the start of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration program, named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister.

Artemis is the long-awaited NASA program to take Americans back to the moon and possibly to Mars. After a successful uncrewed launch of Artemis I mission in November, the next mission will send a crew to orbit the moon. The third mission will aim to land on the moon.

Artemis II, scheduled for November 2024, will send four astronauts into space on a 10-day mission.

NASA officials said they also learned some lessons so far. The heat shield on the Orion capsule had more charred material come off than expected.

“We have an ablative heat shield, so we expect materials to ablate, and so part of that heating the 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that should encounter on a reentry up to that temperature, you’re going to see a charring of that material, kind of what you do when you barbecue or something like that. And so that’s expected to happen that was planned,” Hu explained.

Hu said the material that came off was bigger than expected, but it’s too early in the analysis to determine if a solution is needed for that, or if it’s to be expected during a reentry.

Also, the mobile launcher that Artemis lifted off from at KSC sustained more damage than expected: pneumatic lines on the mobile launcher were damaged, blast plates around the flame hole received more heat damage than anticipated and the mobile launcher tower elevator was also lost.

Crews are repairing or replacing those things now, and are looking at hardening the tower elevator.

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Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.