The most powerful rocket in the world – NASA’s Orion spacecraft — lifted off from NASA’s Space Launch System at 1:47 am EST Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on its Artemis mission to the moon.
Wednesday’s launch was the first leg of the mission in which Orion is set to travel approximately 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, and return to Earth, over the course of 25.5 days.
Known as Artemis I, the mission is a critical part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, in which the agency explores for the benefit of humanity. It’s an important test for the agency before flying astronauts on the Artemis II mission.
Ahead of Artemis I launch, NASA installed Zohar and Helga, the two identical manikins for testing a new radiation protection vest developed by the Israeli startup StemRad.
The experiment called Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE) will investigate radiation exposure throughout the flight and test the effectiveness of the new protection vest developed by Israeli StemRad, supported by Israel Space Agency within the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology of Israel.
MARE addresses one of the greatest health hazards for crews on space missions beyond low-Earth orbit – space radiation. Until today, all manned missions to explore space, besides Apollo’s missions to the moon, were limited to low-Earth orbits where most of the harmful radiation, including those due to solar storms and cosmic galactic radiation, is shielded by the Earth magnetic field.
In lieu of a human crew, Artemis I’s Orion spacecraft is carrying two identical manikin torsos, dubbed Helga and Zohar and manufactured from materials that mimic human bone, soft tissues, and the organs of an adult female. Female forms have been chosen because women typically have greater sensitivity to the effects of space radiation.
Zohar will be wearing the StemRad radiation vest, which covers the upper body, the uterus, and blood-forming organs, while Helga will not. The manikins are equipped with radiation detectors, which will enable scientists to map internal radiation doses to bodily areas containing critical organs.
Identical in every other way, they will inform scientists on how well the new vest may protect crew from radiation, while also collecting data on how much radiation astronauts might experience inside Orion on a lunar mission – conditions that cannot be recreated on Earth.
The experiment is co-managed by ISA and DLR, with the assistance of Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the Orion spacecraft, for NASA. NASA is participating in the experiment as co-principal investigator.
Exploring Farther in Space Than Ever Before
“What an incredible sight to see NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch together for the first time. This uncrewed flight test will push Orion to the limits in the rigors of deep space, helping us prepare for human exploration on the Moon and, ultimately, Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
After reaching its initial orbit, Orion deployed its solar arrays and engineers began performing checkouts of the spacecraft’s systems. About 1.5 hours into flight, the rocket’s upper stage engine successfully fired for approximately 18 minutes to give Orion the big push needed to send it out of Earth orbit and toward the Moon.
Orion has separated from its upper stage and is on its outbound coast to the Moon powered by its service module, which is the propulsive powerhouse provided by the ESA (European Space Agency) through an international collaboration.
“It’s taken a lot to get here, but Orion is now on its way to the Moon,” said Jim Free, NASA deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.
“This successful launch means NASA and our partners are on a path to explore farther in space than ever before for the benefit of humanity.”
Lunar Flyby Set for Nov. 21
A series of 10 small science investigations and technology demonstrations, called CubeSats, have deployed from a ring that connected the upper stage to the spacecraft.
Each CubeSat has its own mission that has the potential to fill gaps in our knowledge of the solar system or demonstrate technologies that may benefit the design of future missions to explore the Moon and beyond.
Orion’s service module also performed the first of a series of burns to keep Orion on course toward the Moon approximately eight hours after launch. In the coming days, mission controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will conduct additional checkouts and course corrections as needed.
Orion is expected to fly by the Moon on Nov. 21, performing a close approach of the lunar surface on its way to a distant retrograde orbit, a highly stable orbit thousands of miles beyond the Moon.