NASA’s Artemis II Astronauts Get a Close Look at the SLS Rocket Core Stage

The four astronauts who will fly around the moon on NASA’s Artemis II mission in 2024 visited the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, to see the progress of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket core stage. The SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA and will launch the Orion spacecraft on the first crewed lunar mission since 1972.

The Artemis II crew consists of three NASA astronauts and one Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut. They are:

  • Victor Glover, commander of the mission and veteran of the SpaceX Crew-1 flight to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020-2021.
NASA’s Artemis II Astronauts Get a Close Look at the SLS Rocket Core Stage
NASA’s Artemis II Astronauts Get a Close Look at the SLS Rocket Core Stage
  • Christina Koch, pilot of the mission and record-holder for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, with 328 days in orbit in 2019-2020.
  • Reid Wiseman, mission specialist and former Navy test pilot who flew on the Soyuz TMA-13M mission to the ISS in 2014.
  • Jeremy Hansen, mission specialist and the second Canadian to fly around the moon, after Chris Hadfield who flew on the shuttle mission STS-100 in 2001.

The four astronauts met with the engineers and technicians who are working on the SLS core stage, which is the backbone of the rocket and houses the four RS-25 engines and the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen tanks. The core stage is nearly 212 feet (65 meters) long and 27.6 feet (8.4 meters) in diameter, and can produce more than 2 million pounds (9 million newtons) of thrust at liftoff.

The crew also got a chance to see the core stage simulator, which is a full-scale mockup of the core stage that is used for testing and training purposes. The simulator allows the SLS team to verify the fit and function of various components and systems, as well as to practice the procedures for assembling, transporting, and stacking the core stage.

The SLS core stage is currently undergoing final assembly and integration at the Michoud Assembly Facility, and is expected to be shipped to the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi for a second Green Run test in early 2024. The first Green Run test, which involved firing the four RS-25 engines for eight minutes, was successfully completed in March 2021.

Artemis II Mission Overview

The Artemis II mission will be the first crewed flight of the Orion spacecraft and the SLS rocket, and will pave the way for the Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon in 2025. The Artemis II mission will last about 10 days and will send the four astronauts on a free-return trajectory around the moon, reaching an altitude of about 4,600 miles (7,400 kilometers) above the lunar surface.

The mission will test the performance and reliability of the Orion and SLS systems in deep space, as well as the crew’s ability to operate and live in the spacecraft for an extended period of time. The mission will also demonstrate the communication and navigation capabilities of the Orion and the lunar Gateway, which is a planned outpost in orbit around the moon that will serve as a staging point for future lunar and Mars missions.

The Artemis II mission will also carry out several scientific and educational objectives, such as deploying CubeSats, conducting a lunar flyby of the Apollo 13 landing site, and engaging students and the public through various outreach activities.

SPHEREx Space Telescope Takes Shape

In addition to the Artemis II mission, NASA is also making progress on another ambitious project: the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) space telescope. The SPHEREx telescope is designed to survey the entire sky in near-infrared wavelengths, and to map the distribution and properties of galaxies, stars, and interstellar dust across the history of the universe.

The SPHEREx telescope will also search for signs of water and organic molecules in the icy regions of our solar system, such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and the Kuiper Belt objects beyond Neptune. The telescope will help scientists understand the origin and evolution of life in the universe, as well as the nature of dark energy and dark matter, which make up most of the mass and energy of the cosmos.

The SPHEREx telescope is currently under development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and is expected to launch in 2024. The telescope will have a mass of about 440 pounds (200 kilograms) and a diameter of about 6.5 feet (2 meters). The telescope will orbit the Earth in a sun-synchronous orbit, which means that it will always face the sun and have a constant illumination. The telescope will scan the sky every six months, and will complete four full-sky surveys in two years.

The SPHEREx telescope is part of NASA’s Astrophysics Explorer Program, which aims to provide frequent and low-cost missions to explore the universe. The SPHEREx telescope was selected for development in 2019, after competing with three other proposals. The total cost of the mission is estimated to be about $242 million, excluding the launch vehicle.

NASA’s Artemis II mission and SPHEREx telescope are two examples of how the agency is advancing its exploration and science goals, and inspiring the next generation of explorers and innovators.

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