Welcome to this week’s installment of The Intelligence Brief… as NASA prepares for the final preparatory stages in advance of the historic launch of its Artemis I mission, this week we’ll be looking at 1) what NASA engineers and technicians had to say this week about the forthcoming rollout of the space launch system (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, 2) what NASA’s Artemis mission aims to do, 3) the slow path the SLS and Orion will take on Thursday, and 4) how you can tune in and watch it all unfold.
Quote of the Week
“The Moon is the first milestone on the road to the stars.”
– Arthur C. Clarke
Before we launch into things, a few of the stories we’ve been covering this week over at The Debrief include the inaugural installment of “Our Cosmic Neighborhood”, a new column for The Debrief by Professor Avi Loeb. In “Communicating with Extraterrestrials,” Loeb gives us perspectives on the challenges presented by any future attempts at communicating with extraterrestrials. Elsewhere, mammoths keep turning up in the news cycle as Texas-based Colossal Biosciences says it plans to take on the environmental issues that lead to critical endangerment, and even revive the long-extinct species, and Metaverse Mammoths are helping to create new exhibits that are both immersive, and more COVID-19 friendly. We also have our ongoing coverage of the situation on Ukraine, with Tim McMillan’s latest dispatch, “Nearing a Crossroads: Latest Assessment of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.”
And with that out of the way, it’s time once again to turn our attention toward the Sunshine State, where NASA is gearing up to make history in the inaugural stages of a series of missions that will eventually carry humans farther than they’ve ever gone into space.
Artemis Moves One Step Closer to Launch
NASA’s Artemis I mission looks like it is on course for launch in the weeks ahead, as the space agency detailed its latest stages of preparation in a media conference call earlier this week.
“Engineers and technicians have just completed the pre-test briefing to prepare for the space launch system rocket and Orion spacecraft to roll out to the launch pad 39-B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida,” said NASA Public Affairs Specialist Antonia Jaramillo during a media briefing on Monday.
“At the launch pad the rocket and spacecraft will undergo one of the final tests known as the wet dress rehearsal,” Jaramillo said, “before launching the Artemis I flight test around the Moon.”
“We’re really super excited about this,” said Tom Whitmire, Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development at NASA Headquarters, who called Thursday’s scheduled rollout an “an iconic moment.”
Whitmire was joined on the call by Charlie Blackwell Thompson, Exploration Ground Systems Artemis launch director at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; John Honeycutt, Space Launch System Program Manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center; Howard Hugh, the Orion Program Manager; and Mike Serafin, Artemis I mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Artemis I: A Mission Around the Moon
Artemis I (which had been previously known by the name Exploration Mission-1) is set to be the inaugural test for NASA’s next-generation deep space exploration systems. These include the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, as well as their ground systems located at Kennedy Space Center.
What Artemis aims to do won’t be easy: NASA’s goal is to launch the unmanned vessel on the most powerful rocket currently in use by any space agency in the world, which will propel it a greater distance than any spacecraft has ever gone. According to a NASA FAQ page, Artemis’ journey will take it 280,000 miles from Earth, flying thousands of miles beyond the Moon. Remaining in space for up to six weeks, the spacecraft will also remain in space longer than any spacecraft designed for manned missions has ever done (with the exception of spacecraft that have docked for periods with the International Space Station).
Mike Sarafin, who joined Monday’s briefing, calls Artemis “a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known.”
“It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight,” Serafin adds, “pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.”
Vehicle Assembly and Wet Rehearsals
Technicians have worked busily now for several weeks in preparation for the March 17 launch. On March 11, Linda Herridge wrote at the official Artemis I blog that engineers and technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center had successfully moved the Crawler Transporter-2 to the doors of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The Crawler Transporter-2 will provide the critical role of transporting the Artemis Moon rocket to its launch pad.
“Soon, the 6.6-million-pound crawler will go inside the VAB and slide under the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft placed on the Mobile Launcher,” Herridge wrote. After final preparations, the Crawler will provide the slow transport of the Moon rocket over to Launch Complex 39B.
Living up to its name, we’re not kidding when we say the crawler is slow; transportation of the Moon rocket is expected to inch along at a top speed of no more than 1 mph. Although it is more than half a century old, the crawler has undergone several significant upgrades in advance of the Artemis Mission, and NASA expects things to go smoothly as rollout ensues on Thursday.
Tune in Live
NASA will be providing live coverage of the rollout on March 17, which will allow viewers to watch the crawler as it inches along with the SLS and Orion in tow, completing the trip from the Vehicle Assembly Building to their destination at Launch Complex 39B. Although the distance the crawler will be traveling is a mere four miles, the entire trip is expected to take as much as 11 hours to complete.
To tune in and watch, viewers can head over to NASA TV, which will be live-streaming the rollout with coverage from program staff beginning at 5 PM Eastern. Keep in mind, though, that once the rollout is complete, NASA expects that additional testing will ensue between Thursday and April 3, when the wet dress rehearsal will take place, during which the rocket will be fueled up, followed by an additional testing period before Orion and the SLS are rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Center.
With any luck, all of the work that will ensue over the next few weeks will help to eventually see Artemis I off on a successful maiden mission, paving the way for future manned missions that will take astronauts with NASA and its international partners further out, and on more complex missions than any ever attempted in the history of human spaceflight.
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