NASA's SLS rocket and the Orion capsule on top of it will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a mission to the Moon

NASA Moon Rocket Ready for Second Launch Attempt

NASA SLS rocket and Orion capsule on top lift off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to fly to the moon – Copyright AFP CHANDAN KHANNA

After technical problems halted its first launch attempt, NASA will try again on Saturday to lift its new 30-story rocket off the ground and send its unmanned test capsule to the moon.

If the Massive Space Launch System (SLS) lifts off successfully, it will be not only spectacular, but historic for NASA, as it will be the first in its Artemis program to return to the Moon fifty years after the last Apollo mission.

The launch is scheduled for 14:17 local time (18:17 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with a possible two-hour delay if needed.

“Our team is ready,” Jeremy Parsons, deputy manager of research ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center, said Friday.

“They’re getting better with every try and actually did a great job during the number one launch countdown… I think if the weather and equipment match, we’ll definitely go.”

Although the area around the spaceport will be off-limits to the public, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather on nearby beaches to see and hear the most powerful craft NASA has ever launched take off into space.

NASA’s initial launch attempt on Monday was halted after engineers found a fuel leak and a sensor showed that one of the rocket’s four main engines had overheated.

Both issues have since been resolved and the weather appears to be favourable, with the US Space Force predicting a 60 percent chance of favorable weather at the scheduled launch time and then increasing to 80 percent in the launch window.

If something calls for NASA to retire again on Saturday, there are back-up opportunities on Monday or Tuesday. After that, the next launch window will not be until September 19 due to the position of the Moon.

The goal of the Artemis 1 mission is to make sure the Orion capsule mounted on the SLS rocket is safe to carry astronauts in the future.

Sensor-equipped dummies will replace the astronauts on the mission and will record levels of acceleration, vibration and radiation.

– twin sister of Apollo

The spacecraft will take several days to reach the Moon, traveling about 60 miles (100 kilometers) at closest approach. The capsule will fire its engines to enter a deep retrograde orbit (DRO) 40,000 miles from the Moon, a record for a human-carrying spacecraft.

The trip is expected to last about six weeks, and one of its main goals is to test the capsule’s heat shield, which measures 16 feet in diameter and is the largest ever built.

Upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, the heat shield would have to withstand speeds of 25,000 miles per hour and temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) – about half that of the Sun.

Artemis is named after the twin sister of the Greek god Apollo, after whom the first lunar missions were named.

Unlike the Apollo missions, which sent only white men to the moon between 1969 and 1972, the Artemis missions will see the first person of color and the first woman walk on the lunar surface.

Accordingly, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s first female launch director, will give the final liftoff on Saturday.

The successful Artemis 1 mission will be a huge relief for the US space agency after years of delays and cost overruns.

The government audit estimates the program’s cost will rise to $93 billion by 2025, with each of its first four missions costing a whopping $4.1 billion per launch.

The next mission, Artemis 2, will take astronauts to the moon without landing on its surface.

The Artemis 3 crew is due to land on the Moon no earlier than 2025, and later missions call for a lunar space station and a permanent presence on the lunar surface.

According to NASA chief Bill Nelson, by the end of the 2030s, a manned flight to the red planet aboard the Orion may be attempted, which will last several years.

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