August 30, 2022

The front page of today’s paper announced the scheduled liftoff of the Artemis 1 rocket was scratched yesterday after back-to-back technical issues.  The team of engineers were unable to get the rocket’s engines to the proper temperature required to start the engines and ran out of time in the two-hour launch window.  The four RS-25 engines must be thermally conditioned before the super cold propellant begins flowing through them for liftoff.  Launch controllers condition them by increasing the pressure on the core stage liquid hydrogen tank to bleed a portion of the -423F (-253C) liquid hydrogen to the engines.  During the countdown, launch controllers worked through several other issues, including area storms, a leak at the quick disconnect on the 8-inch (20 cm) line used to fill and drain core stage liquid hydrogen, and a hydrogen leak from a valve used to vent the propellant from the core stage tank.  The earliest possible date for the next launch attempt is Friday, September 2nd.  The mission team will convene Tuesday afternoon to discuss the data and develop a plan forward.

When I looked online, I found the Artemis program is an international human space-flight program with a goal to return humans to the Moon by the year 2025.  The flight will include the first woman and a person of color as the thirteenth man to land on the moon.  Artemis 1 is an uncrewed Moon-orbiting mission and the first flight of the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the complete Orion spacecraft.  The Artemis 1 mission will last six weeks and will test all the rocket stages and spacecraft that would be used in later Artemis missions.  After reaching orbit and performing a trans-lunar injection (burn to the Moon), the mission will deploy ten CubeSat satellites and the Orion spacecraft will enter a distant retrograde orbit of the moon for six days.  The Orion spacecraft will then return and reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.  The craft is protected by a new design for the heat shield that failed when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart on re-entry on February 1, 2003.  The capsule will finally splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

The planned launch date for Artemis 1 was December 2016, but that has been delayed at least sixteen times due to technical issues with the SLS and the Orion spacecraft.  The program is also suffering from cost overruns (the main criticism of the SLS) and budget limits imposed by the federal government.  This will be the first lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972, which was the final lunar mission of the Apollo program.  The Artemis program began December of 2017 by bringing together other programs that the US had started since 2009.  The hope for Artemis is for a continued presence of humans on the moon and that one day the program might take humans to Mars and throughout the Solar System.  NASA has been joined in the Artemis program by private companies and international organizations like the European Space Agency.  The Artemis 2 mission will perform a crewed lunar flyby and Artemis 3 will perform a crewed lunar landing, five decades after the last Apollo mission. 

THOUGHTS:  After being challenged to put a man on the moon by John F. Kennedy in 1960, NASA named the ship being designed to accomplish the feat Apollo, as the Greek god’s chariot was said to ride across the sky with the sun.  Apollo’s twin sister Artemis is the Greek goddess of the Moon, and is the name given to the mission to bring humanity to the moon and planets.  While congress has constantly decried the cost overruns accompanying the space program, it should be noted the task has always been to create an end by developing the means.  Modern computers, cell phones, and much of our technology is the result (directly and indirectly) of these developments.  When Jules Verne wrote “From the Earth to the Moon” in 1865, he envisioned a giant cannon which would propel the craft.  The cost estimate to win this US$1,000 bet was US$4 million, but it ended being US$5.5 million.  It seems even a cannon can have cost overruns.  While it is prudent to manage the costs of such projects, it is unfathomable to image where we would be without them.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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