Nasa's return to the Moon: the Artemis 1 rocket lifts off this Monday


It is the great return of the Nasa towards the Moon. The most powerful rocket ever developed will take off this Monday, August 29. 

A six-week mission in space, in preparation for more than a decade, launched in front of tens of thousands of spectators: the new rocket of Nasa, the most powerful in the world, must take off on Monday for the first time from Florida, towards the Moon.

Fifty years after the last Apollo flight, the Artemis 1 mission should mark the launch of the American program of return to the Moon, which should allow humanity to then reach Mars, on board the same spacecraft.

The Orion capsule, tested here without a crew, will be propelled into orbit around the Moon to verify that the vehicle is safe for future astronauts, including the first woman and the first person of color to walk on the lunar surface.

"This mission takes away the dreams and hopes of many people," said Nasa boss Bill Nelson. "We are now the Artemis generation."

Liftoff is scheduled for 8:33 a.m. local time from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center.

In a sign of the times, the first female launch director at NASA, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, will give the final green light. Women represent 30% of the staff in the launch room, compared to only one at the time of Apollo 11.

Two minutes after the takeoff, the boosters will fall back into the Atlantic. After eight minutes, the main stage will detach in its turn. Then, after approximately 1h30, a last push of the upper stage will put the capsule on the way of the Moon, which it will take several days to reach.

Between 100,000 and 200,000 people are expected to attend the show, including US Vice President Kamala Harris.

The main objective of the mission is to test the heat shield of the capsule, which will return to the Earth's atmosphere at nearly 40,000 km/h, and a temperature half as hot as the surface of the Sun.

Instead of astronauts, dummies have been placed on board, equipped with sensors recording vibrations and radiation levels. Microsatellites will also be deployed to study the Moon or an asteroid. On-board cameras will be used to follow the 42-day journey.

The capsule will venture up to 64,000 km behind the Moon, farther than any other habitable spacecraft to date.

"What we are beginning with this liftoff on Monday is not a short-term sprint but a long-term marathon, to bring the solar system, and beyond, back into our sphere," Bhavya Lal, associate administrator at Nasa, said with aplomb.

After this first mission, Artemis 2 will carry astronauts to the Moon in 2024, without landing. An honor reserved for the crew of Artemis 3, in 2025 at the earliest. Nasa then wishes to launch about one mission per year.

The goal: to establish a lasting human presence on the Moon, with the construction of a space station in orbit around it (Gateway), and a base on the surface. There, humanity must learn to live in deep space and test all the technologies necessary for a return trip to Mars.

A multi-year journey that could take place "in the late 2030s," according to Bill Nelson.

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