Artemis I Launch Tests NASA’s Mission to Return Humans to the Moon | WSJ

– [Narrator] NASA has been gearing up to return astronauts to the moon for the first time in more than half a century. – [Astronaut] Hey, they’ve got the flag up now, and you can see the stars and stripes. (microphone feedback) – [Narrator] As soon as the end of August, the Space Agency plans to conduct the first launch of the massive rocket system for its moon exploration program, Artemis. The first mission, Artemis I, will send a spacecraft on an uncrewed trip around the moon. – So Artimis I is a test run. It’s a test run for the rocket system, for the the spacecraft for the ground systems, the ground infrastructure. – [Narrator] It will be a critical step towards landing people on the moon by 2025. But over the last few years, NASA and its partners have experienced a range of technical, legal, and cost-related delays. – There’s a lot of elements that you have to get right, that NASA and its partners have to get right to sort of make all that technical choreography work. – [Narrator] So how does NASA plan to achieve this historic mission and how could Artemis I pave the way for future space exploration beyond the lunar surface? (camera shuttering) There are several key space vehicles involved in NASA’s effort to get humans back on the moon. – So there’s the SLS, that’s the kind of rocket system that starts the journey, and on top of that is Orion which separates from the rocket and then begins its journey to lunar orbit. – [Narrator] There will also be a separate lunar Lander designed to take astronauts from lunar orbit down to the moon surface. That lander designed by SpaceX is expected to be used on a future Artemis launch currently planned for 2025. The first mission, Artemis I, will send the crew capsule into orbit around the moon for about six weeks, allowing NASA to test a series of critical systems like life support before it puts people on board. Artemis II will follow a similar path, but with astronauts on board. And Artemis III will carry people to the moon surface. NASA says this mission will be historic for other reasons as well. – It’s opening the door (camera shuttering) for the first woman and the first person of color to set foot on the moon. – [Narrator] Artemis I will serve as a pathfinding mission laying a foundation for future trips to the moon. It will also be the first test flight of NASA’s new space launch system, Megarocket, and the Orion crew capsule. Another key objective will be testing the spacecraft’s heat shield. (bell dinging) It’s meant to protect the Orion capsule from the extreme temperatures it will encounter entering Earth’s atmosphere at Mach 32, which is around 24,500 miles per hour. – The idea is to run all the hardware, all the software through its paces and show that the rockets can fire this spacecraft out of the gravitational pull of earth, and the spacecraft can separate and travel to the moon and get back to this planet safely. – [Narrator] NASA will also be monitoring Orion’s navigation systems and its resilience when traveling through high radiation areas. Three mannequins on board will be fitted with sensors to determine how astronauts will fare on the flight. Another test will be recovering the spacecraft after it splashes down in the ocean. Meanwhile, the vehicles that NASA plans to use for Artemis I have faced delays. The mission was originally scheduled to take off in 2021. – The contractors that are building the different elements of the SLS rocket system and Orion have run into technical challenges and have had to work those out. They’ve faced supply chain problems. And some of these rockets, NASA has not attempted to have built and launch in quite a long time. So part of the challenge was like simply getting back up to speed on creating again, really big, really powerful rockets. – [Narrator] The first Artemis rocket and the broader Artemis program are expected to be costly. Last November, NASA’s inspector general forecasted the agency would spend $93 billion over more than a dozen years on Artemis. With key costs for the first launch expected to be around 4.1 billion. NASA leaders have said the agency is pushing to reduce costs for Artemis and streamline operations. – Some of the contractors that are building the vehicles have said part of the cost question is because we’ve been in this development mode building these for the first time. And when we build future rockets and spacecraft the cost should come down because we’re simply in production mode and not in this developmental stage of creating the vehicles for the first time. – [Narrator] There are more long-term ambitions for NASA’s Artemis programs. – Astronauts will live and work in deep space and will develop the science and technology to send the first humans to Mars. – [Narrator] The Space Agency has plans to build Gateway, a multipurpose outpost orbiting the moon. It has also discussed developing a base camp on the lunar surface. More broadly, NASA says it’s return to the moon efforts will help prepare for future exploration of Mars. – Artemis now has a vision of sending astronauts back to the moon and creating sort of a sustained infrastructure. You know, pursuing science, pursuing exploration. And the idea is that NASA will build all of that infrastructure and know-how hardware to sort of make that happen and use that knowledge base to pursue the next frontier, which is some sort of trip to Mars. – [Narrator] As the Artemis I launch date nears, NASA is wrapping up several key tests to ensure all the rocket systems will be ready to go. – That 2025 timeline for getting people down to the surface of the moon and back is coming up relatively quickly. The pressure is on to sort of get to that deadline, and we’ll see if they can make it happen. (gentle upbeat music)

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