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How NASA’s Artemis 1 launch will mark a new era in space exploration – PBS NewsHour

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Humans will be one step closer to making a giant leap back to the moon with the launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission. The uncrewed test flight was delayed until later this fall after two launches were scrubbed within a week of each other due to various technical issues.
But when – and if – Artemis 1 does successfully take off, the mission will send Orion — a novel spacecraft designed to safely transport astronauts on deep-space missions — on a six-week journey around the moon and back to Earth.
READ MORE: Fuel leak disrupts NASA’s 2nd attempt at Artemis launch
Named for the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis is a descendent of Apollo, the NASA program that successfully took astronauts to the moon for the first time in 1969. In addition to inaugurating a new era of lunar missions, researchers involved with the Artemis program have an eye on future exploration that involves humans traveling further into the unforgiving, high-radiation terrain of space than ever before, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during an Aug. 3 press conference.

“It’s a future where NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon and, on these increasingly complex missions, astronauts will live and work in deep space, and will develop the science and technology to send the first humans to Mars,” Nelson said.
Artemis 1 offers researchers the opportunity to complete a test run of the capabilities of the new spacecraft, Orion, while also using technology to gauge the physiological impacts of deep space travel on future astronauts. Here’s what else you need to know about the mission.
Orion will reach lunar orbit thanks to NASA’s Space Launch System, or SLS. The 32-story rocket is the most powerful ever built, Nelson said. The pair will blast off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida before Orion eventually detaches from the rocket to begin its solo journey toward the moon, traveling further than any prior spacecraft designed for humans, Nelson said.

Watch NASA’s first attempted launch of Artemis 1 on Aug. 29, which was ultimately scrubbed due to engine problems.
One of the mission’s key objectives is demonstrating Orion’s ability to return to Earth at the end of its mission. The re-entry will be faster and hotter than any spacecraft that’s come before it, Nelson said, noting that Orion will hit the planet’s atmosphere at 32 times the speed of sound.
The spacecraft’s large, technologically advanced heat shield is designed to protect it throughout that journey. Whether Orion safely returns via a splash landing and retrieval in the Pacific Ocean will be the ultimate test to determine its success.
Artemis 1 is uncrewed, meaning no real astronauts will be aboard the mission, but three mannequins designed to simulate humans will sit in their place. That includes Commander Moonikin Campos — a name voted on by the public that’s a nod to NASA electrical engineer Arturo Campos, who was “instrumental in bringing Apollo 13 safely back to Earth,” said Bhavya Lal, associate administrator for technology, policy and strategy within the office of the NASA Administrator during the Aug. 3 briefing.
WATCH: NASA officials give briefing on postponement of new Artemis moon rocket launch
Moonikin Campos will be strapped into the commander’s seat during the mission and wear a spacesuit designed for future Artemis astronauts, according to NASA. It will have two radiation sensors, plus ones that will record acceleration and vibration data. Information on radiation is particularly important because as Orion travels beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, Lal said, it will be exposed to a harsher radiation environment than what astronauts aboard the International Space Station face.
The Orion spacecraft will host a trio of astronaut-like mannequins that will collect information on how humans experience deep space conditions. Commander Campos will don a spacesuit that future Artemis crews will wear, while the blue torsos — named Helga and Zohar — will provide insight into how female bodies experience radiation on the way to the moon. Image via NASA/Frank Michaux
“As a card-carrying nuclear engineer, I can personally attest that radiation is one of the top challenges for human exploration beyond [low-earth orbit,] which is why there is such a focus on understanding the radiation environment to and [at] the moon,” Lal said.
She added that radiation impacts men and women differently. That’s why the male-bodied Moonikin Campos will be joined by two mannequin torsos named Helga and Zohar designed to represent adult females. They’ll be part of the effort to study the impacts of deep space radiation on humans and will be outfitted to test a radiation protection vest.
Accompanying the mannequin crew will be none other than a small, plush Snoopy, who will serve a crucial role as Artemis 1’s zero-gravity indicator. Those indicators are small items that offer a visual cue as to when spacecraft like Orion have “reached the weightlessness of microgravity,” according to NASA.
Some space exploration missions bring along technology aimed at completing low-stakes experiments, or demonstrating how a novel tool could be used in future missions. Ten CubeSats, or small satellites about the size of a shoe box, will hitch a ride aboard the SLS to attempt a range of research goals.
“Several of the CubeSats chosen to fly in Artemis 1 focus on lunar science and may help inform research strategies and prioritize technology development of human and robotic exploration,” Lal said.
Other CubeSats will perform tasks that include testing innovative propulsion techniques, studying space weather, analyzing the effects of radiation on living organisms and capturing high-resolution imagery of the Earth and the moon, she said, adding that the mission provides a rare opportunity to get these experiments into deep space.
CubeSats are shown secured inside the Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. All CubeSats will be deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the moon. Image via NASA/Cory Huston
A technology demonstration dubbed Callisto (who, according to Greek myth, was a hunting companion to Artemis) will be set up on the Orion spacecraft. Callisto is the result of a collaboration between Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco and aims to one day bring the convenience and support of voice-activated virtual assistants like Alexa to space travel, according to NASA.
Time will tell whether and to what degree the Artemis 1 mission successfully carries out its objectives. In the days leading up to the launch, there’s a palpable sense of excitement and awe among NASA researchers and admirers as the dawn of a new era of space exploration draws closer, taking humanity from the Apollo generation to the Artemis generation, as Nelson put it.
“To all of us that gaze up at the moon, dreaming of the day humankind returns to the lunar surface — folks, we’re here. We are going back,” Nelson said. “And that journey — our journey — begins with Artemis 1.”
Left: NASA’s next-generation moon rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), with the Orion crew capsule perched on top, stands on launch complex 39B before its second attempted launch of the Artemis 1 mission at Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S. Sept. 2, 2022. Joe Skipper/Reuters
By Marcia Dunn, Associated Press
By Associated Press
By Marcia Dunn, Associated Press
By Marcia Dunn, Associated Press
By Marcia Dunn, Associated Press

Bella Isaacs-Thomas is a digital reporter on the PBS NewsHour’s science desk.
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