The SLS rocket is on a large platform, and the prospect is a rough road.

NASA’s Artemis 1 mission is about to push the SLS giant rocket to the moon

Well, space fans. The time is almost here. NASA is about to launch its next-generation rocket for the first time and launch it beyond the moon. It’s going to be a crazy time, but let’s be honest, there’s a lot going on on Earth too – if you’re anything like me, you’re probably in the market for a quick look at when the next big thing at NASA is happening.

Consider your SLS cheat sheet as NASA prepares for its big August 29 launch.

What is SLS?

It stands for Space Launch System.

It seems like a very boring name.

This is. But it’s also very practical because it refers to a system that launches things into space.

What kind of things can SLS launch?

so many things! This version of the SLS has four large rocket motors and two solid-state boosters that can carry about 27 metric tons to the moon’s vicinity. That’s more than the space shuttle can carry to low-Earth orbit, but less than the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket can carry to the moon. Future versions of SLS will be able to carry more.

SLS and Orion roll to launch pad
Image: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Wow, what will it do?

It will light up like 5.75 million pounds of fireworks. The boosters — the twin white cylinders on either side of the rocket — are 17 stories high and contain a solid rocket fuel called polybutadiene acrylonitrile.they burned six Ton According to NASA, this fuel per second. If you’re wondering what this has to do with jumbo jets, NASA has you covered. Each “produces more thrust than 14 four-engine large commercial airliners”. The two boosters will produce 75 percent of the boost that will lift the rocket and its cargo off the ground.

But that’s only part of the rocket power. And the 212-foot-tall core stage—the orange part of the rocket. On launch day, it will be filled with 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen that will fuel the four engines on the bottom.

All this fuel and engineering translates into a lot of power. Within 8.5 minutes of launch, the SLS and Orion capsules it carries will travel at about 17,000 miles per hour.

What is an Orion Capsule?

I know, other Name. So SLS will carry a spacecraft called Orion. (In the picture, it’s the white part on top of the rocket.) It has nothing to do with the Orion game gadget.

Photo by Loren Grush / The Verge

Orion is designed for missions beyond Earth orbit, with potential destinations being the Moon or Mars. It has a very shiny exterior to help it cope with the extreme temperatures in space, a next-generation heat shield that can handle re-entry into the atmosphere, and a launch abort system that can shut down the spaceflight if anything goes wrong during launch sent to safety. In space, it can support 4 people on a 21-day mission.

Orion flew into space on a test flight in 2014. Since then, it has undergone extensive testing in preparation for its next flight, which has been delayed many times, many Second-rate. (More on these delays later.) Back in 2020, when some engineers discovered problems with the spacecraft’s power components, it looked like it might be delayed again. It will take months to try and fix it, and they have backup systems available, so they will fly the spacecraft as-is.

Is there anyone in Orion?

No. There will be three mannequins strapped inside, all of which look terrifying to varying degrees. One, named Commander Moonikin Campos, will wear the flight suits astronauts wear on future missions. It will be accompanied by limbless Helga and Zohar, who will carry radiation detectors to determine how much radiation astronauts may be exposed to during their trip to the moon. Zohar will be wearing a vest that protects against radiation. Helga will not. Good luck, Helga.

Two blue limbless mannequins strapped to seats in the Orion cockpit

Helga and Zohar are strapped to Orion’s seat. The feet of Commander Munigin Campos can be seen in the upper left corner.
Image: NASA/Frank Michaux

A big reason for not having astronauts on board is that the entire launch was a giant test flight. This is the first time the SLS has debuted in a big space, and it feels like a pretty bad choice to put people on the rocket before seeing if it actually works. (NASA briefly considered doing this, then decided against it.) Instead, Artemis I will go all out to test how well Orion and SLS work and push them to their limits before people get on board.

What is Artemis I?

Oh boy, there’s another name! Artemis I is an ongoing mission between SLS and Orion. Its main goal is to ensure Orion can work in space and return astronauts to Earth safely after the mission. As a bonus, it will fly farther than any previous spacecraft designed for humans, 280,000 miles from Earth.

Over the course of its 42-day mission, it will fly a total of about 1.3 million miles to the moon, then enter lunar orbit for a few days before returning to Earth. The map for this mission looks like a very large and very messy number 8. If the launch goes as planned on Aug. 29, it should splash back to Earth on Oct. 10.

A map showing the flight path of the Artemis 1 mission around the Earth and Moon.

The itinerary of Artemis I.
Image: NASA

Are there any other Artemis missions?

Yes! If all goes well with Artemis I, NASA will move on to Artemis II, which will be the first crewed flight of the SLS/Orion combination. It’s also the first manned return mission to the moon since the Apollo era, but the astronauts on board won’t land on the moon — they’ll just be in orbit for a while before returning to Earth.

The ultimate goal is for NASA to land the first woman on the moon during the Artemis III mission, which is still underway. In August, NASA announced several potential landing sites near the moon’s south pole.

Yes, this is a wake-up call. How long has this work been done?

Artemis plan? Since 2019, then-Vice President Mike Pence has announced that NASA will return to the moon and will be there in 2024.

Fun fact! It got its name because, in mythology, Artemis was Apollo’s twin sister, and there’s a lot of nostalgia for the Apollo missions, for better or for worse.

So will they return to the moon before 2024?

Absolutely not. They’re currently shooting for 2025, but that’s still pretty ambitious.

What about the SLS project? I feel like I’ve heard it longer.

You sure have. Its origins date back to around 2010, when the United States was moving away from the space shuttle to other means of space transportation. Part of it was originally a project called Constellation, but it was cancelled because it was too expensive. It then relaunched as SLS in 2010, with a target launch in 2017. The program slipped into 2018 and continued to decline as the project was delayed and over budget.

For the full history, check out our story here.

But…are they ready now?

looks like! Although their rehearsal was cut short in June due to a hydrogen leak, engineers believed they had solved all last-minute tasks for the rocket, and NASA decided to launch.

What else will be on board?

In addition to Helga, Zohar, and Commander Moonikin Campos, several other scientific experiments will take place on Artemis I. During the mission, the spacecraft will deploy 10 small satellites called CubeSats. Some will map ice cubes on the lunar surface, some will deploy giant solar sails to asteroids, and still others will try to land on the moon. On board, there will also be a scientific experiment that will take yeast to places where there was no yeast before, in an attempt to study deep space radiation.

A stuffed cartoon sheep sticks a hoof to a miniature model of the Orion capsule.

Shaun the Sheep taking a photo with the Orion capsule model
Image: ESA/Aardman

Also inside the capsule is a stuffed sheep named Sean. Also, Snoopy. Both Sean and Snoopy will act as zero-gravity indicators, floating around Orion once they reach microgravity.

When will the SLS be released?

Aug. 29 at 8:33am ET. See you there!

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