Artemis I Moon Launch News and Video: NASA Live Updates

Kenneth Chang

Recognition…Marvin Smith/NASA

For astronauts to get to the moon, they need a big rocket, and the Space Launch System is that rocket — the most powerful since Saturn V took NASA astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. The one waiting on the pad to launch Wednesday stands 322 feet tall and will weigh 5.5 million pounds when filled with propellants.

It will be capable of lifting more than 200,000 pounds into low Earth orbit and sending nearly 60,000 pounds of payload to the moon. Its cargo for this launch is Orion, a capsule unmanned for this flight but capable of carrying four astronauts.

Known as the SLS, the rocket resembles a stretched outer tank used by the decommissioned space shuttles, and the side boosters that help it get into space look a lot like the shuttles’ engines.

This is by design: To simplify the development of their new moon rocket, NASA reused much of the space shuttle technology of the 1970s. The rocket’s midstage is the same 27.6-foot diameter as the shuttle’s external tank from the 1970s and is covered in the same orange insulation.

The four engines in the core stage are the same as the Space Shuttle’s main engines. The first three Artemis missions actually use engines pulled from the old shuttles and refurbished. Since none of the SLS rockets will be used more than once, NASA will run out of old shuttle engines after Artemis IV. New engines are required for Artemis V and later missions.

The side boosters are longer versions of those used for Space Shuttle flights. During the Shuttle era, NASA salvaged and reused similar boosters. But for the Space Launch System, which will only launch about once a year, the agency decided it would be easier and more economical to dump the boosters in the ocean and use new ones for each flight.

The SLS second stage, which will propel the Orion capsule on a trajectory to the Moon once it reaches low Earth orbit, is essentially a modification of the one used for another rocket called the Delta IV. A new improved second stage is used for Artemis IV, which makes the rocket even more powerful.


The Orion spaceship

A diagram showing the various components of the Orion spacecraft.





CREW module

Can accommodate four people

Start abort system

Able to evacuate the crew module to safety if an emergency occurs during launch

service module

Provides power and propulsion for the crew module

begin

abort system

Able to evacuate the crew module to safety if an emergency occurs during launch

CREW module

Can accommodate four people

service module

Provides power and propulsion for the crew module

CREW module

Can accommodate four people

Start abort system

Able to evacuate the crew module to safety if an emergency occurs during launch

service module

Provides power and propulsion for the crew module


Development of the Orion crew capsule began in 2006 as part of Constellation, an earlier lunar program launched under President George W. Bush. Constellation costs skyrocketed, and the Obama administration attempted to scrap it entirely in 2010.

However, Congress rebelled against this decision, leading to a revival of Orion, and Ares V, the heavy lift rocket planned for Constellation, became the space launch system.

The Orion capsule is designed for multi-week trips into space beyond low-Earth orbit. That means the vehicle, while larger than the Crew Dragon capsule that carries astronauts to the International Space Station, has slightly less space inside to make room for more robust life support systems.

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