On Monday morning, nearly 50 years since NASA’s final Apollo mission, the U.S. space agency will launch an unmanned rocket that will orbit the moon and lay the groundwork for crewed missions there and eventually to Mars and deeper space.
The mission, named Artemis I, will be a 238,000-mile test flight for a new Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket. After orbiting the Earth and harnessing its gravitational pull, Orion will travel at speeds of over 9,000 feet per second and set the stage for astronauts to venture farther beyond the Earth than previously attempted.
“This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known,” Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.”
With an estimated cost of $93 billion by the end of 2025, the Artemis program hopes to return astronauts to the surface of the moon by 2026 and establish a sustainable human presence there by the end of the decade.
Four days, seven hours and 18 minutes after liftoff, the Orion space module will pass just 62 miles above the moon’s surface, NASA said, before spending a week in the moon’s “distant retrograde orbit,” pushing it the “farthest any human-capable spacecraft has ever gone.”
Making good on its slogan, “At NASA, we make Air and Space available for everyone,” Monday’s moon launch can be viewed on NASA’s website as well as on NASA TV. The launch, which will take place at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., is scheduled for between 8:33 and 10:33 a.m. ET.
NASA is also encouraging Americans to share their impressions and follow the mission on social media.
“If your passion is to communicate and engage the world via social media, then this is the event for you! Seize the opportunity to blog, tweet, post or simply share everything about the Artemis mission,” NASA says on its website.
The agency says one goal of the Artemis missions will be to “land the first woman and the first person of color” on the moon.
“Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight test to send Orion around the Moon and back to Earth over a six-week mission to check out systems before crew fly aboard on Artemis II,” NASA says on its website. “Through Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone to send astronauts to Mars.”
Cover thumbnail photo: Joel Kowsky/NASA