November 17, 2022
The Nation & World section of today’s local newspaper declared that after several high-profile delays over more than a month the Artemis I blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday. The launch marks the first leg of the mission, during which the Orion capsule will travel around 40,000 miles, taking it beyond the moon and returning to Earth over the course of 26 days. NASA’s Bill Nelson said the mission will help NASA prepare for future human exploration on the moon and Mars, although noting that “things will go wrong” during the demo. The primary goal of Artemis I is to test the integrated systems before crewed missions. The Artemis program is scheduled to land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the moon. At 1:47 am EST the four main engines and two solid rocket boosters of the Space Launch System (SLS) ignited with an 8.8 million pounds of thrust. This is the most powerful rocket in operation and marked the first SLS launch (and third attempt) for NASA’s Artemis program.
When I looked online, I found the Space Launch System (SLS) is an American super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle developed by NASA starting in 2011. The SLS is the successor to the retired Space Shuttle, and the primary launch vehicle of NASA’s deep space exploration plans through the 2020’s. The SLS has the highest payload capacity of any current launch vehicle and the third-highest capacity of any rocket ever to reach orbit, trailing only the Energia (Soviet Buran program) and Saturn V (US Apollo program) rockets. Crewed lunar flights are planned as part of the Artemis program, leading to a possible human mission to Mars. The SLS is being developed in three major phases with increasing capabilities: Block 1, Block 1B, and Block 2. As of August 2019, SLS Block 1 launch vehicles are to launch the first three Artemis missions and the five subsequent SLS flights are planned to use Block 1B. All later flights are expected to use the Block 2 rocket.
The SLS was explicitly designed to launch the deep space Orion spacecraft and make use of the ground operations and launch facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Artemis is projected to use at most one SLS each year until at least 2030. The SLS is launched exclusively from LC-39B at the Kennedy Space Center. After reaching initial orbit, Orion deployed its solar arrays and engineers began to perform checkouts of the spacecraft’s systems. Orion separated from its upper stage, and science investigations and technology demonstrations (CubeSats) were deployed from a ring connected to the upper stage to the spacecraft. Eight hours after launch, Orion’s service module preformed a series of burns to keep it on course. Orion will fly by the moon on November 21, inspecting its surface. If all goes well, Orion will return to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean in December. The rocket was supposed to have made its dry run by 2017 but met with both technical and weather delays. Government watchdogs estimate NASA will have spent $93 billion on the Artemis project by 2025.
THOUGHTS: I have vague memories of watching liftoff of Alan Shephard while crowded around our small black and white TV as the US launched the Mercury capsule, Freedom 7. This occurred on May 5, 1961, which was a school day. My father kept us home from school to watch this historic event. Family lore says he was later called into the principal and asked why he had kept us out of school “for no good reason”. What would happen if everyone had kept their children home? His purported response was, “I guess more children would have seen the launch.” Historic events that can change the world’s perspective happen constantly. Some discount these events as being “for no good reason”. We need to learn to integrate different perspectives to determine our response. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.