U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced last week (December 9, 2020) that NASA has selected 18 astronauts from its bodies to form what it calls the Artemis Team. Two of these astronauts are expected to become the first U.S. men and women to return to the moon since 1972. That equipped lunar mission could launch as early as 2024 (although recently thundered, the date could be postponed). Pence introduced the Artemis Team astronauts on December 9 during the 8th meeting of the National Space Council at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. You can see them present themselves in the video above (starting around the 1-minute mark).
NASA said it would later announce flight assignments for astronauts, pulling from the Artemis Team.
You will find names and short biographies for the members of Artemis Team here.
Meanwhile, despite a reported error on the cone-shaped space capsule Orion – the vehicle that will carry the astronauts – all indications so far are that the first Artemis mission, a non-equipped mission, is still launched in November 2021 by the Kennedy Space Center agency in Cape Canaveral, Florida. That mission will be Artemis 1.
The November 2021 launch will be a test of both the Orion capsule and the rocket intended to launch it, called the SLS, or Space Launch System.
The second Artemis mission – scheduled for 2023 – will test Orion’s critical systems with people on board. It is expected to be the first manned mission to travel beyond low Earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Then comes the Artemis 3 mission, the one that is expected to take astronauts to the moon, hopefully in 2024. The Artemis program is part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Space Policy Directive 1, approved in December 2017. The goal is to return the U.S. astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 and to:
… lay the groundwork for a possible mission to Mars.
The program Artemis is named after Apollo’s sister in Greek mythology.
EarthSky’s lunar calendar shows the moon phase for each day in 2021. Order yours before they leave! Makes a great gift.
On the Artemis 1 mission, the Orion crew and SLS rocket will be launched together from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39B. The SLS – a rocket more powerful than Saturn V that propelled Apollo astronauts to the moon – will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust (39 million newts) with its five accelerators and four engines on a launch to bring in six million pounds (2.7 million kg)) of a vehicle into orbit.
After releasing the accelerators, the engines will stop and the core stage (main body) of the rocket will separate from the spacecraft.
Following is a series of technical propulsion stages that will give Orion the gallantry needed to leave Earth’s orbit and head for the moon, but not before dropping a few small satellites called CubeSats along the way. These CubeSats will perform a series of experiments and demonstrations unrelated to the Artemis mission in deep space, such as exposing living microorganisms to a deep space radiation environment for the first time in more than 40 years.
Once in lunar orbit, Orion will collect data and allow mission controllers to evaluate its performance for about a week. When he is ready to return home, Orion will use its space propulsion system provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), along with the moon’s gravity, to return to Earth.
ESA’s service module will provide – in addition to in-space propulsion – power, air and water for the astronauts of future missions.
About three weeks and more than 1.3 million miles (2.1 million km) later, the Artemis 1 mission will end with a test of Orion’s return capabilities by directing it to land near a recovery ship off the coast of Baja, California. All of this might sound like a lot of complicated, technical work. The NASA video below illustrates the entire mission of Artemis 1.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has slowed the testing of SLS, the process is now resuming at the agency’s Mississippi space center Stennis. Boeing led the construction of the megarocket SLS and is now engaged in a test process called the green run. It will culminate in a hot fire test where the rocket will ignite its engines while it is tied to the ground, and withstand every step of launch as if it were actually happening. This rehearsal was originally scheduled for November 2020, and is now scheduled for the end of December. This delay may leave little room to hold matters for the launch of Artemis 1 in 2021.
After the hot fire test, the core stage will be renovated and brought to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for even more testing. The Orion development, led by Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defense and Space, has met its own delays, although the spacecraft is on track to begin Artemis 1 launch preparations in the first half of 2021.
The second mission – the test mission of capsule Orion, Artemis 2 – is scheduled for August 2023.
Future manned reconnaissance missions on Orion will dock with Gateway, an advanced NASA plan to build an orbit around the moon to support a sustainable long-term human return to the lunar surface. NASA lunar director Marshall Smith said:
We don’t need to make the giant leap at the same time. For a future mission, once we prove that we can reach the moon and start a landing, we can both get bitter with the Entrance.
Background: NASA has selected 18 astronauts from its bodies to form what it calls the Artemis Team. Two members of this team will become the first American men and women to return to the moon since 1972. The first Artemis mission – an unmanned test mission called Artemis 1 – is still expected to launch in November 2021. The Artemis program aims to bring humans back to the moon and then to Mars.
Read more from EarthSky: NASA will test its SLS megarak in the coming weeks