KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — It has been 5 decades since the final flight on the Apollo program, but Monday morning, NASA is set to launch the most powerful rocket to date on a 42-day journey around the moon and back. The launch of the Artemis 1 mission is the first step in sending humans back to the surface of the moon.
Artemis is the sister of the Greek God Apollo, and the name of NASA's latest lunar program. That NASA says will eventually send the first woman and first person of color to the moon. Astronauts haven't made this journey since 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission. FOX 4 spoke to NASA Orion Crew Survival Systems Project Manager Dustin Gohmert about the anticipation ahead of Monday's launch.
“You know I hear my dad talk about where he was when he saw that lunar landing,” said Gohmert. “And the excitement of doing that again and getting to see it and my children to see it. I really don’t think you can put that into words.”
The Artemis I mission will be the first for NASA's Space Launch System or SLS when it takes off from Pad 39b at the Kennedy Space Center. The SLS rocket is carrying the Orion crew capsule, which will one day carry astronauts. This time, it will carry three mannequins, including Commander Moonikin Campos, named after Aurtho Campos, who played a major role in devising a solution to the emergency that arose during the Apollo 13 mission.
“That will be fully outfitted in a suit just like you see here behind me and ride in an Orion seat exactly, it may literally be on the exact seat that the crew rides up in in further missions,” said Gohmert. “We will have it instrumented to understand more about launch and landing dynamics. The other mannequins are provided by some of our European partners. And they are going to be used to measure deep space radiation exposure as well.”
The two European mannequins are named Helga and Zohar
The trip to the moon and back will take 42 days and cover a couple million miles.
“You know to put that on your car would take two decades and we are going to do it in a series of days,” said Gohmert. “And thinking about this and how honestly difficult it is to keep people alive in the hostile environment of space and all the work at goes into it. It is a phenomenal undertaking. It is a very, very exciting one and honestly will lead advances here on Earth for decades to come.
When the SLS lifts off, it will be the most powerful rocket humans have ever launched. NASA will likely only hold that title for a short period, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship set take that mantle shortly. Gohmert says having multiple ways to deep space is huge.
“We have two, an immediately capable rocket sitting on the pad a few miles away from me and we have one in the wings, being built in South Texas that has capabilities that beyond imagination also,” said Gohmert. “I hope that they complement each other in the long term. You know our goal is to get to the moon and as an agency using every resource, we have is going to be critical.”
If the Artemis I test flight goes well, NASA will send astronauts aboard Artemis II in 2024 for a shakedown flight around the moon, with Artemis III set to touch down near the moon’s southern pole in 2025. After that, NASA intends to launch a steady stream of Artemis missions to the moon on about a yearly basis.
Florida Tech’s Director of Spaceport Graduate Center Dr. Don Platt says this could only be the beginning of something much more.
“If everything goes pretty well here, then we will see humans back on the moon in the next 2 years or so,” said Dr. Don Platt. “And working there and doing things. And that is going to set up future activities on the moon with more humans. And I think if one group, like if the NASA Artemis program, is successful with having people on the moon. We are going to see others do it as well, not only from this country, but other countries too.”
The combination of NASA Artemis mission as well as SpaceX Starship missions to moon in the coming years, human presence off of our planet could expand significantly. With the goal of using the Moon as a launch pad to the Red Planet Mars, things once imagined in science fiction could be a not-so-distant reality.
As of Friday night, there looks like a pretty good chance weather wise that Artemis will be a go on Monday. The 45th Space Weather Squadron is giving the launch a 70% chance of GO weather wise. Their primary concerns are the Cumulus Cloud Rule, Surface Electric Fields Rule, and Flight Through Precipitation Rule. That said NASA does have backup opportunities on September 2nd and 5th.