After several delays, NASA launched its Artemis 1 spacecraft on Wednesday, the first step in preparations for returning humans to Earth’s Moon in a reimagining of the space program that captured the world’s attention a half century ago.
Only now, the wealthy private sector’s obsession with space, courtesy of Amazon.com’s
Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin manned space flights, as well as the SpaceX rocket company from Tesla
and Twitter’s Elon Musk, has launched a new-era space race.
Future astronauts and other curious Earthlings can rewatch the blastoff and learn more about the mission and its $4.1 billion rocket and spacecraft. The Artemis 1 mission will last about 26 days, sending data back to NASA.
Taxpayer-funded NASA had scrubbed several earlier scheduled launches after an engine problem created fuel leaks for the rocket and after Hurricane Ian hit Florida in late September. NASA’s annaul budget represents about 0.5% of the $4.7 trillion the United States plans to spend in the fiscal year. More of its budget and spending can be tracked here.
The Artemis 1 mission is a 1.3-million-mile (2.1-million-kilometer) trip to the Moon, past the Moon and then back again. This journey will be crucial to get the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft ready for Moon missions crewed by humans later in the decade, NASA says.
According to NASA, this mission not only will provide valuable testing for human crews, but it will carry humanoid and robotic passengers for scientific purposes and to foster public interest in the program, noted Elizabeth Howell, a staff writer for the spaceflight channel Space.com. Because the Artemis 1 mission is uncrewed, a plush Snoopy will provide a zero-gravity indicator to show the team on the ground when the spacecraft reaches weightlessness.
The Artemis program, which aims to eventually land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, has a dedicated Twitter account at @NASAArtemis. You can also track the mission there.
The SLS rocket — the largest rocket ever made — is the centerpiece of NASA’s Artemis program and the modern equivalent of the Saturn 5 that took U.S. astronauts to the Moon as part of the Apollo program more than 50 years ago.
This launch is the first of three Artemis missions on the schedule, with Artemis 2 slated to take four crew members into space in 2024, and Artemis 3 due to take two astronauts to the lunar surface in 2025 or later.
And beyond Earth’s Moon?
Officially, NASA intends to land astronauts on Mars by about 2040, give or take a year or two. Recently, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, told CNBC that the aerospace company will beat NASA to Mars by at least a decade.