NASA prepares to send its Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft around the moon

The recent RS-25 engine tests proved successful.
Chris Young
NASA's SLS rocket.NASA/Frank Michaux

NASA is making final preparations before kickstarting its Artemis lunar missions.

The U.S. space agency announced in a press conference on Thursday, February 24, it will carry out a "wet dress rehearsal" for its Orion spacecraft that will eventually send humans back to the moon, according to Space.com. The new timeline means that Artemis 1, which was scheduled to liftoff in April, likely won't launch until nearer the summer.

That dress rehearsal, set for March 17, will see Orion and NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket rolled out to the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Mission control will then perform a countdown and stop just short of T-minus zero, to ensure that all operations run smoothly up to that point. Earlier this week, NASA also announced that recent tests of its RS-25 engine for SLS were successful after a glitch on an engine computer in December delayed launch. 

Shooting for the moon

If all goes to plan with the upcoming rehearsal, NASA will start preparation for Artemis 1, which will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft around the moon launched by one of the agency's SLS megarockets. As Space.com points out, it is now not possible for Artemis 1 to make its previously-schedule April launch due to recent delays. May could also be difficult. 

"We continue to evaluate the May window, but we're also recognizing that there's a lot of work in front of us," Tom Whitmesyer, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development at NASA headquarters in Washington, said during the virtual news conference.

NASA prepares to send its Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft around the moon
Source: An artist's impression of the Orion spacecraft reaching the moon. Source: NASA

If all goes according to plan during the Artemis 1 mission, NASA will then prepare for Artemis 2, which will send astronauts on a trip around the moon aboard an Orion craft. Artemis 3 will land on the moon, but that mission will use a SpaceX Starship vehicle. Artemis 3 will send the first woman and the first person of color to the Moon and it will be the first time humans land on the lunar surface this century.

The U.S. space agency sees the first Artemis moon landing as a gateway into a new era for space exploration. It will enable it to maintain a constant presence on the moon as well as plan for crewed Mars missions that are currently slated to take place at some point in the 2030s.

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