Just five days after the Artemis I program’s Orion capsule made its long-awaited liftoff from Earth, the unmanned spacecraft is finally reaching the moon on Monday for a lunar flyby.
Orion will fly just over 80 miles above the lunar surface as it orbits the moon. NASA’s live coverage of the flyby will begin at 7:15 am ET, with the outbound set to take place at about 7:44 am ET. NASA says it expect to lose communication with the spacecraft as is passes behind the moon for approximately 34 minutes starting at 7:26 am ET.
The three-week test, if successful, will allow for a manned crew to take the Orion around the Moon in the future.
The Artemis I program, which has been set up to return Americans to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended more than 50 years ago, plans to make its orbit around the Moon with humans onboard in 2024 and land astronauts on the lunar surface by 2025. Eventually, in the 2030s and 2040s, NASA plans to build a base on the Moon and send astronauts to Mars.
NASA’s Artemis exploration program is named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister.
The 322-foot SLS is the most powerful rocket built by NASA, with more thrust than either the space shuttle or the mighty Saturn V that carried men to the moon. A series of hydrogen fuel leaks plagued the summertime launch attempts as well as countdown tests A fresh leak erupted at a new spot during Tuesday night’s fueling, but an emergency team tightened the faulty valve on the pad. Then a US Space Force radar station went down, resulting in another scramble, this time to replace an ethernet switch.
The $4.1 billion test flight is set to last 25 days, roughly the same as when crews will be aboard. The space agency intends to push the spacecraft to its limits and uncover any problems before astronauts strap in. The test dummies — NASA calls them moonikins — are fitted with sensors to measure such things as vibration, acceleration and cosmic radiation.
NASA is waiting until this test flight is over before introducing the astronauts who will be on the next one and those who will follow in the bootsteps of Apollo 11′s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.