American Vice President Mike Pence visited and gave remarks at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on 20 July to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing and announce the completion of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Orion crew capsule for the first Artemis lunar mission, the agency said.
Fifty years ago, NASA’s goal was to prove that the agency could land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. Now, it is looking further afield with its new goal returning to the Moon in a “sustainable” way to prepare to send astronauts to Mars for the first time ever.
Artemis 1 will launch NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket around the Moon to test the system and pave the way for landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in five years, as well as future missions to Mars.
“Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight,” Vice President Pence said at the event.
He was joined on stage by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Kennedy Center Director Robert Cabana, Lockheed Martin Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson, and Rick Armstrong, son of Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong.
Before going to the Operations and Checkout Building, Pence, Aldrin and Armstrong visited Kennedy’s historic launch pad, 39A, where the Apollo 11 mission lifted off.
“Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity,” Bridenstine said. “President Trump and Vice President Pence have given us a bold direction to return to the Moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars.
“Their direction is not empty rhetoric. They have backed up their vision with the budget requests need to accomplish this objective,” he added. “NASA is calling this the Artemis program in honour of Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, the goddess of the Moon. And we are well on our way to getting this done.”
According to NASA, engineers have recently completed building and outfitting the Orion crew module at the Kennedy Space Centre. The underlying structure of the crew module – the pressure vessel – was made at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and shipped to the centre, where teams integrated thousands of parts into the crew module and conducted tests to certify its systems for flight.
Orion’s European Service Module, which will provide the power and propulsion for Orion during the mission, also is complete. Contributed by the European Space Agency, the service module was manufactured by Airbus in Bremen, Germany, and shipped to the centre in November 2018 for final assembly and integration.
Engineers have begun operations to join the crew module to the service module, and teams are connecting the power and fluid lines. Once the modules are joined, they will install a “heatshield backshell panel” on the spacecraft and prepare it for a September flight to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, where they will test if the joined modules can withstand deep space.
When testing in Ohio is complete, the spacecraft will return to the Kennedy Space Centre for final processing and inspections. Teams then will fuel the spacecraft and transport it to the centre’s Vehicle Assembly Building for integration with the SLS rocket before it is rolled out to Launch Pad 39B for the launch of Artemis 1.
NASA describes Orion as part of its “backbone” for deep space exploration, along with SLS and the lunar Gateway. During Artemis 1, SLS will send the uncrewed spacecraft – consisting of the crew and service modules – thousands of miles past the Moon for the first in a series of increasingly complex missions.
Artemis 2 will be the first of these new missions to the Moon to have astronauts on board, followed by Artemis 3. Through Artemis, the agency plans to “establish a sustainable human presence at the Moon by 2028 to continue scientific research and discovery, demonstrate new technologies, and lay the foundation for future missions to Mars”.