Nasa is prepared to move its mega Moon rocket to a launch pad in Florida for its highly anticipated lift-off on August 29.
The Space Launch System will be rolled out to the launch pad on Tuesday, August 17, 5am, UAE time. The event will be streamed live on the Kennedy Space Centre's Youtube Channel.
About 13 days later, it will launch into space from the Florida space centre as part of the Artemis 1 mission, an uncrewed test flight to the Moon.
“Engineers are conducting the last integrated test before the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft roll out to Launch Pad 39B next week for the launch of the Artemis I flight test,” Nasa said.
The target launch date for the 101-metre rocket is August 29, but there are back-up dates ― September 2 and 5.
SLS will carry Orion to its intended orbit in space, and then the spacecraft will fly solo to the Moon, where it will spend six days collecting data and allow mission control to measure its performance.
To lift off, the rocket will produce 3,991 tonnes of thrust and will reach a speeds of 40,233 kilometres per hour within minutes to reach space.
This is the first of many planned missions under the Artemis programme, which aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon.
Many tickets already sold out
Local media in Florida reported that tickets offering members of the public a good viewing spot of the launch were already sold out.
The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex's website also briefly crashed because of the high demand for tickets.
Beachside hotels in the area are also fully booked, with the space coast expected to host 100,000 tourists for the launch.
The Artemis programme is Nasa's attempt at returning human beings to the surface of the Moon, including landing the first woman and first person of colour.
If the first crewed, landing flight is successful later this decade, it would be the first time an astronaut has landed on the Moon in 50 years, since the Apollo missions ended.
Science experiments on Artemis 1
Artemis 1 will also be carrying 10 small payloads, called CubeSats, and several other science investigations.
“Each of the payloads will perform science and technology experiments in deep space, expanding understanding of lunar science, technology developments, and deep space radiation,” Nasa said.
Details of these science experiments will be shared in a live stream by the space agency on August 16, at 1am, UAE time.
One of the payloads that will be carried inside Orion is the BioSentinel CubeSat, which will perform the first long-duration biology experiment in deep space.
It will carry micro-organisms, in the form of yeast, so scientists can learn more about health risks posed by radiation in deep space.
“Space radiation is like a demolition derby ― on the nano scale. High-energy galactic cosmic rays and bursts of solar particles permeate deep space. These types of radiation can wreak havoc on electronics and living cells alike,” Nasa said.
“BioSentinel’s main job is to monitor the vital signs of yeast to see how they fare when exposed to deep space radiation.
“Because yeast cells have similar biological mechanisms to human cells, including DNA damage and repair, scrutinising yeast in space will help us better understand the risks of space radiation to humans and other biological organisms and help us plan crewed exploration missions to the Moon and beyond.”
The CubeSat will study yeast cell growth and metabolic activity after exposure to a high-radiation environment beyond low-Earth orbit.
Artemis missions and Lunar Gateway
Artemis 2 is planned for 2024 and includes a crewed mission that will orbit the Moon.
Artemis 3, the first human lunar landing mission under the programme, has been delayed until 2025.
Nasa and its international partners are also developing the Lunar Gateway, a small station that will be placed in lunar orbit to support the Artemis programme.
It will allow crew to dock their spacecraft to the Gateway and offer a space for astronauts to live, work and carry out science investigations.