The rocket was originally scheduled to depart on Monday, but its launch was canceled due to several technical issues. 400,000 spectators are expected in Florida for the start of this mission.
After a first failed attempt at the start of the week, NASA will try again this Saturday to launch its mega-rocket towards the Moon, for a test mission which should launch its new flagship program, Artemis, fifty years after the last flight of Apollo .
Tens of thousands of spectators hope that their wait will be rewarded with an impressive spectacle: the orange and white rocket SLS, which will be its maiden flight from launch pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the most powerful in the world.
Takeoff is scheduled for 2:17 p.m. local time, or 8:17 p.m. French time, and remains possible during the following two hours if necessary. The green light was given at the end of the morning to start filling the tanks.
The team “is ready”
Weather conditions are 60% favorable at the start of this shooting window, then gradually improve to 80%.
“Our team is ready, they are better at every attempt,” said Jeremy Parsons, ground equipment manager at the space center, on Friday. If the weather and material conditions are met, “it is clear that we will take off”.
In the event of a new impediment on Saturday, take-off could possibly be rescheduled for Monday or Tuesday. It will then be necessary to wait until September 19 at the earliest, because of the positions of the Earth and the Moon.
A first test mission
The purpose of this unmanned mission, named Artemis 1, is to verify that the Orion capsule, at the top of the rocket, is safe to transport astronauts in the future.
Thanks to this new vessel, the American space agency intends to reconnect with distant human exploration, the Moon being 1000 times further away than the International Space Station.
Above all, NASA intends this time to establish a lasting human presence there, in order to make it a springboard for a trip to Mars.
The trip is expected to last about six weeks in total. Orion will venture up to 64,000 kilometers behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft so far.
A succession of technical problems during the first launch attempt
In the middle of the long weekend in the United States, up to 400,000 people are expected to admire the take-off, especially from the surrounding beaches. A host of astronauts also made the trip, including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet.
Filling the rocket’s tanks with its cryogenic fuel – about three million liters of liquid hydrogen and oxygen – is due to begin in the early morning.
On Monday, a leak had been observed at this stage, before an engine cooling problem ended up canceling the launch. NASA has since worked to resolve these issues.
New astronauts on the Moon in 2025?
After this first mission, Artemis 2 will carry astronauts to the Moon in 2024, without landing there. An honor reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, in 2025 at the earliest. NASA then wants to launch about one mission per year. This time, NASA wants to allow the first person of color and the first woman to walk on the Moon.
It will then be a question of building a space station in lunar orbit, baptized Gateway, and a base on the surface of the Moon. There, NASA wants to test the technologies needed to send the first humans to Mars: new suits, vehicle to move around, possible use of lunar water…
According to NASA boss Bill Nelson, a round trip to the red planet aboard Orion, which would last several years, could be attempted towards the end of the 2030s.