Pre-launch preparations for NASA’s Artemis 1 mission are going very well. So well, in fact, that the agency has pulled their Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s launch date up ahead of schedule. In a blog update, NASA announced that the Orion spacecraft will roll out to its launch pad two days early.
Artemis 1 is NASA’s first lunar mission since LADEE in 2013 – 2014 and the agency’s first step to putting boots back on the moon since the Apollo 17 mission of 1972. It has two major goals: to build an Artemis Base Camp on the surface of the moon, and a Gateway in lunar orbit. The Gateway is a space station in lunar orbit, where astronauts will transfer between Orion and the lunar lander on Artemis missions. Meanwhile, the agency will build an outpost on the surface of the moon, to give astronauts a place to live and work. The Artemis Base Camp will include “a modern lunar cabin, a rover, and a mobile home.”
In a statement, NASA said they’re targeting Thursday, Aug. 18 to roll SLS and the Orion spacecraft to the spaceport’s Launch Pad 39B. They’ll also be live-streaming the whole event, beginning at 6 PM EDT on Wednesday, Aug. 17, on the NASA Kennedy You Tube channel.
NASA continues to target Aug. 29 for the Artemis 1 launch. However, they’ve got backup dates on Sept. 2 and 5. If all goes well, the Orion capsule will spend about some weeks in orbit around the moon, before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
Girls Can Go to Space, Too
The Artemis mission stands out for its determination to include women in the mission at every stage. Its mission for inclusivity is worth talking about all on its own, but right now I want to talk about the female mannequins in the Orion capsule.
Historically, crash tests have used mannequins shaped and sized like adult males. But females are statistically smaller and shorter than males, and that affects how safety restraints fit. Consequently, even though cars are safer than ever, studies show that female bodies are almost twice as likely to face injury in crashes. So it really does matter that NASA is specifically testing out their safety gear and PPE (personal protective equipment) on a wider range of body sizes.
For the Artemis 1 mission, NASA is sending two female-bodied mannequins to test out safety equipment sized for women. Both mannequins will wear radiation detectors. One of the mannequins is also wearing a special protective vest called AstroRad.
In a blog post, NASA explained that “Their names are Helga and Zohar and, despite sharing the trip, their missions will be different – Zohar will wear the AstroRad vest, while Helga will not. Female forms were chosen because women typically have greater sensitivity to the effects of space radiation.”
Ahead of Schedule — For Now
Artemis 1 is the first in an ambitious series of lunar missions. The second flight, Artemis II, will carry astronauts instead of mannequins when it launches into lunar orbit in May of 2024. And while Artemis II will stay in orbit around the moon, Artemis III will touch down on the moon’s surface sometime in 2025.
Even though the Space Launch System is ahead of its current schedule by two days, it has been delayed over and over since its inception in 2012. And the whole SLS project has taken a lot of criticism over its $20 billion price tag, despite its highly effective nationwide jobs program. But NASA continues to press on with its lunar missions, just as it continues to build toward a robust commercial presence in low-earth orbit.
NASA has been cultivating and funding private and academic space endeavors for better than a decade now. They began their Commercial Crew and Commercial Cargo missions because the International Space Station won’t live forever. Long before Russia started griefing the global aerospace sector, it was obvious that the ISS would need a successor. But as humanity reaches for the stars, we’ll also need a pit stop on the moon. The Artemis flights are the first part of that process.