NASA's Artemis I mission launch was postponed Monday, after an issue with a fuel line prevented the rocket from being loaded with more propellant.
"We don't launch until it's right," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said, according to NBC News. The new launch could be on Sept. 2 or Sept. 5.
But Monday was supposed to be the first showcase of the agency's newest and strongest rocket, loaded up with satellites and a crew capsule ready to lay the groundwork for many more trips to the moon — with humans aboard.
You might not know all the tech that's being launched into space. Here's what you need to know, and why the mission is happening.
What is the Artemis I mission?
The NASA Artemis I mission will send a crew capsule all the way to the moon and back, drop off satellites, and help set up future missions. The Artemis II and III missions will see human astronauts fly by the moon and then land on its surface. More distant plans could include a new space station orbiting the moon that could even be used as a rest stop or launch point for missions to Mars.
Learn more about the rocket, the lander
Space Launch System (SLS) – Standing at 322 feet tall, SLS is NASA's newest and strongest rocket, capable of carrying heavier payloads into space than ever. The rocket uses liquid hydrogen and oxygen as propellants. It’s also packed with safety features like a newly engineered crew escape system in case of an emergency.
Orion Capsule – This newly designed human-rated spacecraft will sit atop the SLS rocket, and it’s got more room for the crew than the one NASA used on the Apollo missions. Orion will orbit the moon before returning to Earth. No human crew members will be aboard the capsule during the Artemis I mission.
3 non-human passengers – Three “passengers” (really, three mannequins loaded up with radiation and vibration sensors) will be aboard the Orion capsule. The information from their sensors will help test the spacecraft’s systems and gather important data for future missions.
One nicknamed "Moonikin Campos" will sit in the commander’s seat to record acceleration and vibration throughout the mission. It will also wear the new Orion Crew Survival System suit and is equipped with two radiation sensors.
Two additional seats will be occupied by mannequins nicknamed Helga and Zohar. They are made from materials meant to mimic the bones, soft tissues and organs of an adult woman. They will be fitted with more than 5,600 sensors and over 30 radiation detectors.
Lunar Gateway – This is a planned space station orbiting the moon, and its first two pieces will be launched in November 2024. When fully complete, the Gateway could serve as a fueling station for spacecraft on expeditions to Mars.
New heat shield – Made of the same material used in the Apollo 11 moon capsule, the heat shield on the Orion spacecraft was specially made to redirect and dissipate the extreme heat (up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit) that comes with re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
The total amount of energy the heat shield will dissipate would be enough to power 5,000 U.S. households for a day.
CubeSats – These are 10 different shoebox-sized satellites that will be deployed from the rocket once in space. Some are U.S.-built, but other agencies including the European Space Agency, JAXA and the Italian Space Agency have created CubeSats for the Artemis I mission. Here are some things the satellites will do:
- search for water in all forms
- conduct infrared imaging of the lunar surface
- measure and compare the impacts of deep-space radiation on living organisms
- measure particles and magnetic fields like a “space weather station”
You can read more about what each of the Artemis I CubeSats do here.
NASA Artemis I mission by the numbers
42 days – the number of days Artemis I will circle the moon before returning home
24,500 mph – the speed at which Orion will re-enter Earth's atmosphere
1.3 million miles – the total distance Orion will cover during the journey, traveling thousands of miles out of the moon's orbit and back to Earth
8.8 million pounds of thrust – The amount of power SLS can provide to get Artemis off the ground and into space. Equal to more than 160,000 Corvette engines, according to NASA.