KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – NASA crews at Kennedy Space Center are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel as they ready for the first launch of the Space Launch System rocket for the Artemis I mission.
NASA officials from across the nation, administrator Bill Nelson among them, held a news briefing Wednesday to further preview the Artemis I moon mission.
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“We are in the final stretch,” Artemis 1 Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said.
Crews are wrapping up preparations for the rocket and will turn to preparing the Orion spacecraft on top of the rocket ahead of a planned rollout to Launch Pad 39B, targeted for Aug. 18.
NASA is looking at three potential dates for launch, with the first being Aug. 29.
The six-week mission will provide NASA the data to more carefully execute Artemis II, which the agency said will be crewed. That mission will orbit the moon with two astronauts on board. If that mission is successful, Artemis III will land the first woman astronaut and the first astronaut of color on the moon.
“This is now the Artemis generation,” Nelson said. “We were in the Apollo generation, but this is a new generation, this is a new type of astronaut. And to all of us that gaze up at the moon, dreaming of the day humankind returns to the lunar surface, folks, we’re here. We are going back and that journey, our journey, begins with Artemis I.”
The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft will head to the moon, orbit it and then return to Earth. The only crew on board will be three suited mannequins. One of them is named Commander Moonikin Campos, a name chosen through a public survey. The mannequins will help NASA get data on what crew members would experience in flight.
The other thing that will be extremely important for NASA during this first mission will be the resilience of the spacecraft’s heat shield, something NASA officials said they can’t adequately test in an Earth-based simulation.
“We are actually going to push this test flight, stress it more than we would with a crew on board,” Nelson said. “We didn’t have that luxury on the space shuttle, because you had to have crew aboard, but it had already tested a number of elements, like those silicone tiles on the space shuttle. This is an ablative heat shield and the only way you can test it is to get it out there and let it come in at 32 Mach.”
This is the first of two briefings this week to discuss the agency’s latest plans as it seeks to use its Space Launch System rocket to send the Orion spacecraft on an uncrewed mission around the moon and back to Earth. The second briefing will occur Friday.
NASA said Wednesday’s briefing provided an overview of Artemis I, while the second will further explain the mission’s timeline and spacecraft operations.
Viewing packages have already hit the online shelves at Kennedy Space Center, as sales began Tuesday for those looking to get a front row seat to see the Artemis I mission take off from the Space Coast.
During the briefing, Bhavya Lal, the associate administrator for technology, policy and strategy, paid tribute to Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek,” who died this past weekend.
Nichols spearheaded a program to bring more women and minorities into NASA in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
“She was a great supporter of NASA,” Lal said. “Trailblazers like her are the reason folks like me are at NASA today.”
Lal also talked about a bit of “Star Trek”-inspired tech that will be on the Orion spacecraft — a voice-activated virtual assistant called Callisto, similar to the computer people talk to on the show. Lal said while Callisto will start with remote commands like turning the lights on or off, she said this technology could evolve on future crewed missions.
“I know when Artemis I launches, Lt. Uhura will be smiling,” Lal said.
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