NASA is just over a week away from the maiden launch of its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in a mission that will mark the start of a new era of space exploration.
Sitting atop the SLS rocket when it blasts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 29 will be an uncrewed Orion spacecraft, which will also be taking its first flight.
As part of the Artemis I mission, the spacecraft will travel more than 250,000 miles to the moon, performing a flyby of our nearest neighbor and coming within 62 miles of its surface before returning to Earth 42 days after launch.
The European Space Agency (ESA) built the Orion’s service module, a key part of the spacecraft that sits beneath the crew capsule and functions as the vehicle’s primary power and propulsion component.
Highlighting the service module’s capabilities, the ESA recently shared an animation (below) that also reveals the precise route and orbits that Orion will undertake during its lengthy test flight. You can watch it below:
“Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station, and return home faster and hotter than ever before,” NASA said.
This month’s Artemis I mission is designed to test the rocket and spacecraft head of Artemis II, an almost identical mission to Artemis I except on that occasion astronauts will travel aboard the Orion.
If that goes without a hitch, NASA will be able to make the final preparations for the ambitious Artemis III voyage that will put the first woman and first person of color onto the lunar surface in what will also be the first crewed visit since the final Apollo landing in 1972.
NASA says Artemis III will take place no earlier than 2025, and is well aware that the viability of its plans rest heavily on the success of this month’s long-awaited mission.
Looking further ahead, NASA’s Artemis program will endeavor to build the first moon base for long-term crewed stays in the same way that astronauts currently live and work aboard the International Space Station. And then, using what it learns from its moon missions, NASA is aiming to embark on what will be its boldest crewed mission in its 64-year history — to put astronauts onto the surface of Mars some time in the 2030s.