Artemis 1 | Preparing for our return to the Moon

Humans first landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, with Neil Armstrong and module pilot Buzz Aldrin onboard the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle. Since the ‘70s there have been no manned missions to the Moon. NASA’s Artemis project will be changing all of this with their Artemis 2 project. But, before getting astronauts back to the cratered-orb, NASA’s engineers have been hard at work building the inaugural Artemis 1 to test the waters once more and ensure future safety with an uncrewed Orion space craft (built for human deep-space missions) launched on top of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket (a super heavy-lift launch vehicle).

Artemis 1 successfully launched last week on November 16th. Here is a little more information regarding the spacecraft’s aims, successes, and unique design.

What is Artemis 1’s mission?

Named after the twin sister of Apollo, Artemis 1 is NASA’s effort to return to the Moon. The craft is designed to orbit the astronomical body before returning back to the Earth’s surface after 42 days. This will make for a crucial demonstration trip, preparing NASA for Artemis 2’s manned missions, and subsequent expeditions, should things go to plan.

Whilst the rocket does not contain passengers, it does contain three mannequins and a Snoopy toy, both of which have been put in place to gauge radiation levels and test life-preservation systems and specialist equipment made with future manned missions in mind.

Artemis’ wider goal is also focused on expanding our exploration of Mars. The plan is to eventually have a lunar base camp to serve as a base for crewed missions to Mars by mid-2030. NASA aims to achieve this via travelling to the moon and learning how to exist and survive in that environment, creating habitats and structures that facilitate life.

The Artemis programme plans to fly farther than mankind has ever ventured, travelling 280,000 miles (450,000km) from Earth, and 40,000 miles (64,000km) beyond the far side of the Moon. If all goes to plan, humans will be in space longer than they have been on previous expeditions, but thanks to advancements in technology, they’ll be able to return at faster speeds than ever before.

Artemis 1’s design

The Artemis 1 is the most powerful rocket ever to fly, lifting off the launch pad with 4 million kilos of thrust. In order to design such a powerful rocket, the engineers combined the Orion craft with the SLS.

The core of the SLS has four huge engines which are fuelled by liquid hydrogen and oxygen. The core tank is 8.4 metres in diameter and 100 metres tall. Attached to the side of this are a pair of five segment rocket motors, and on top a second stage called an interim cryogenic propulsion stage, with the Orion capsule and its service module atop the rocket motors.

The rocket’s Orion astronaut capsule is designed to separate from the rocket and dock with another craft to take astronauts to the lunar surface on the Artemis 2 (and subsequent missions). The launch abort tower is right at the top.

See below for a breakdown of Artemis 1’s design:

Fingers crossed for Artemis 2!

So far so good with Artemis 1’s journey to the Moon and back. On the morning of the 21st, at 7.45 (EST), Artemis 1 was just 80 kilometres above the Moon’s surface. Here is a picture captured on the sixth day of the craft’s mission:

Finger’s crossed for the rest of the craft’s journey going to plan! If successful, this exciting project will pave the way for future manned missions involving the first woman to set foot on the Moon!