NASA’s Artemis II Mission: First Crewed Mission to Utilize Orion Capsule and SLS Moon Rocket
NASA's Artemis II mission, set to launch in November 2024, will mark the first crewed mission to make use of both the Orion capsule and NASA's colossal Space Launch System (SLS) Moon rocket. The 10-day outing will be used to test the capabilities of the Orion capsule and its European-made service module ahead of the Artemis III mission, which will finally return humans to the surface of Earth's moon. The Artemis II mission will be the first of the Artemis Program to put crew in the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), aboard the Space Launch Systems (SLS) Block 1 rocket.
The Delta IV Heavy rocket gave Orion its first flight experience back in 2014. In 2022, the Artemis 1 mission was able to successfully carry out the first test launch of the SLS rocket and the Orion heat-shield, along with deploying 10 smallsats. As of writing this, there have been no announced payloads for additional CubeSats deployment during Artemis II, despite initial plans. Artemis II will be the first flight with crew aboard NASA's deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The moon-centric program will culminate with the demonstration mission of Artemis II. Assuming success, the Artemis III mission will transport two astronauts to the moon's surface, utilizing a lander provided by SpaceX, which is a modified rendition of Starship. This event is expected to take place before 2030. The Artemis II crew includes commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover, and mission specialists Christina Koch and Jeremy Hansen. Wiseman spent 165 days in Earth orbit on his first mission, a 2014 flight to the ISS. In 2009, he was chosen as part of NASA's 20th group of astronauts, hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, and with a previous career as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy.
At the age of 44, Koch achieved the record of the lengthiest space journey ever made by a woman. Her expedition to the International Space Station spanned over 328 days between 2019 and 2020, during which she conducted the first-ever spacewalk with her fellow astronaut Jessica Meir, forming the first all-female team to achieve this feat. During her record-breaking mission, she successfully completed six spacewalks, accumulating more than 42 hours outside the spacecraft, which places her second in terms of spacewalking time during a single spaceflight. In 2013, Victor Glover joined NASA as an astronaut at the age of 46. In 2021, he served as the pilot for SpaceX's inaugural crewed spaceflight (Crew-1) and spent a total of 167 days on the ISS. An engineer and captain in the U.S. Navy, he was born in Pomona, California. The inaugural Black astronaut to be a part of a space station crew was Glover.
Canadian Space Agency astronaut Jeremy Hansen rounds out the Artemis II crew. Hansen will be the first non-American to leave Earth orbit and fly to the moon. Hansen said, “Two things that make me smile about a Canadian going to the moon are…” One key aspect is the leadership of the United States. It is clear that America has the capability to return to the moon independently, yet they have made a conscious decision to establish a collaborative global team, which, in my opinion, exemplifies genuine leadership.
NASA intends the Artemis program to lead to a sustainable human presence on and around the moon, where astronauts can learn the skills and techniques needed to send astronauts to Mars. The ultimate goal of the Artemis program is to use the moon, and the experience gained getting there, as a stepping stone to Mars, establishing a permanent presence on the lunar surface much like it has with the ISS. The purpose of Artemis is to serve as a launchpad that will enable humans to revisit the moon and serve as a foundation for forthcoming crewed expeditions to Mars.
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