Did you know that Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo from Greek mythology? And so the Artemis Space Program will pick up where the Apollo Space Program left off some 50 years ago – an eventual return to the moon. Did you know that the first Artemis mission will launch tomorrow, weather permitting? After launching from Earth, Artemis I will go on a 42-day mission. The Orion spacecraft will travel 40,000 miles beyond the moon. It is the first step in deep space exploration. Orion’s trajectory through space will test the craft’s ability to maintain communication with Earth beyond the moon and protect its crew from radiation. All of the objectives for the inaugural Artemis flight will demonstrate capabilities necessary for when Orion carries humans to deep space.
Orion won’t carry a crew on this initial mission, but it will capture lots of data from the flight via sensors attached to three mannequins that will ride aboard Artemis I to simulate what humans might experience. The data from their sensors will reveal how much vibration they experienced, as well as radiation exposure and the utility of their flight suits and radiation vests. The radiation is present in the Van Allen Radiation Belt, a zone of energetic charged particles, most of which originate from the solar wind, that are captured by and held around Earth by our planet’s magnetosphere.
One of the biggest trials for Orion may be testing its heat shield, the largest one ever built.
When the spacecraft returns to Earth in October, it will face temperatures half as hot as the sun’s surface and hit the top of Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour (40,200 kilometers per hour) — that’s 32 times the speed of sound. The heat shield has been tested on Earth, but returning from space is the “acid test” that simulations can’t completely replicate.
Goals of the Artemis program include landing diverse crews of astronauts on the moon and exploring the shadowy lunar south pole for the first time. The ambitious effort also aims to establish a sustained presence on the moon and create reusable systems that can enable human exploration of Mars and perhaps beyond.
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