NASA's SLS and Orion spacecraft are undergoing final preparations for the August launch

We're at the dawn of a new era for space exploration.
Chris Young
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraftNASA
  • NASA says its pre-launch preparations for Artemis I are going smoothly.
  • The space agency hopes to launch the mission on August 29, September 2, or September 5.
  • The launch will usher in a new era of space exploration that will eventually take the first humans to Mars.

The first of NASA's Artemis moon missions will likely launch this month.

Artemis I is set to launch on August 29, with NASA officials confirming pre-launch preparations are well underway and going smoothly during a press conference on Wednesday, August 3.

It will be the culmination of a years-long process that draws from the expertise and knowledge accrued during the space agency's Apollo and Space Shuttle missions.

NASA's Artemis I launch just around the corner

Artemis I will see NASA's Orion spacecraft launched atop its Space Launch System (SLS). The uncrewed mission will send Orion around the moon before returning to Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Artemis II will perform the same maneuver with astronauts aboard, while Artemis III will send astronauts back to the moon's surface aboard SpaceX's Starship rocket.

“We’ve basically got a date with the [rocket] range on the twenty-ninth of August,” Artemis I launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson stated during NASA's press conference, which was live-streamed on NASA TV.

NASA has three possible dates set out for the first SLS launch window. Right now, things seem to be going well for the first potential launch date of August 29. In an interview with IE, Pete Paceley, principal director of Civil and Commercial Space Systems at Draper, said August is "looking pretty good" for launch. Draper is building much of the guidance software for NASA's Artemis missions.

Of course, NASA will be partially dependent on weather conditions and on preparation going smoothly right up to launch. If SLS doesn't launch on August 29, NASA has also set launch dates for September 2 and 5. The dates between — August 30-September 1 and September 3-4 — wouldn't be viable because the Orion capsule would be flying in Earth's shadow, meaning its solar cells wouldn't receive uninterrupted sunlight, potentially putting the mission at risk.

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If NASA's massive rocket fails to launch during that first window, the space agency will likely have to wait until October, as SLS will have to be wheeled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for servicing.

SLS liftoff ushers in a new era

Artemis I was cleared for liftoff in June after a much-delayed wet dress rehearsal that simulated a launch right up to the final moments of the countdown. Now, the mission still has a series of milestones to tick off the list, including rollout to the launch pad and a final training simulation.

NASA's SLS launch vehicle is currently in the VAB at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Three of the ten steel work platforms used by engineers to work on the rocket have been removed so far. Once all are removed, SLS can roll back to the launch pad once again for final pre-launch preparations. NASA also powered up the Orion capsule on July 30 for a final check. Yesterday, the space agency held a training event, during which it simulated the fueling process.

If all goes to plan, SLS will roll out of the VAB on August 18. It will signal the start of NASA's ambitious Artemis plans and its global collaboration with other space agencies to get humans back to the moon. Shortly afterward, it aims to establish a permanent presence on the moon with its lunar Gateway program. This will serve as a stepping stone to sending the first humans to Mars sometime in the 2030s or 2040s.

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