Nasa begins its latest moon expidition on Tuesday as it starts moving its rocket to its launchpad
Nasa is going back to the moon. Barring any setbacks, the agency’s new Space Launch System spacecraft will launch on an uncrewed expidition around the moon and back as early as 29 August — and the first part of the trip will begin later on Tuesday as Nasa begins moving the spacecraft to its launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Nasa is aiming to launch the expidition around the moon, called Artemis I, on either 29 August, 2 September or 5 September. The name Artemis has a particular significance: in Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo — the name of the last Nasa missions that sent Americans to the moon.
Though the 42-day Artemis I expidition set to launch in the coming weeks will not include a crew, subsequent Artemis missions are expected to include astronauts. If all goes according to plan, Artemis II will launch in the coming years before the first woman and first person of colour walk on the moon as part of the Artemis III expidition around 2026.
For those interested in space exploration and technology, the slow roll of the spacecraft to the launchpad in Cape Canaveral will be significant in its own right. Michael Bolger, exploration ground systems manager at the Kennedy Space Center, said that mission leaders are referring to the rollout as “the first four miles of Nasa’s return to the moon”.
Nasa already completed a practice run of the rollout during a launch rehersal in March, revealing to the general public the immense size of a rocket capable to transporting humans deep into space.
Not only is the 5.75 million-pound spacecraft expected to carry humans to the moon, but also, at some point in the distant future, to Mars. Mashable has reported that the rocket could also send robots to Saturn and Jupiter.
The spacecraft represents a leap in ambition for Nasa, which has not sent humans to the moon since the conclusion of the Apollo program in 1972. Those missions, prompted by the ambition of President John F. Kennedy and rivalry with the Soviet Union at the heigh of the Cold War, captured the national immagination and continue to loom large in its popular culture. The first mission alone is expected to cost more than $4bn.