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Florida prepares Artemis I mission — first stage of journey to land U.S. on moon again

The spacecraft Orion is set to launch Aug. 29 in first of three-stage journey to put U.S, astronauts back on the moon

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The Strawberry Supermoon sets in front of the NASA Artemis rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard on pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Strawberry Supermoon sets in front of the NASA Artemis rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard on pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

John Raoux, Associated Press

Excitement is building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida as NASA prepares to launch an unmanned spacecraft called Orion on a 42-day mission that will take the United States a step closer to once more landing on the moon.

A series of launches under the banner “Artemis” are planned, beginning with Artemis I, scheduled for Aug. 29 at 8:33 a.m. ET. Based on hotel and airline reservations, observation ticket sales and other factors, the prediction is that well over 100,000 people will watch in person nearby — from specially designated parking lots to areas designed for the purpose in and atop area hotels, among other locations.

If the launch is delayed by weather or for technical reasons, the next possible launch would be Sept. 2 or Sept. 5. Beyond that, there are several opportunities before the end of the year.

Artemis II will duplicate Artemis I’s journey, but with astronauts. The actual moon landing by two astronauts is expected with Artemis III in late 2025, NASA officials said in a press briefing Wednesday that was carried on NASA’s Twitter page. They said that the launch of the unmanned spacecraft is a “test flight” that will stress Orion more than could be done with a crew on board, since the spacecraft has not been flown before.

They described a “lean-forward” strategy that will allow risks they would not be willing to take with a manned flight, including with the go/no-go decision on the actual launch. “We are trying to buy down risk. We’re willing to take more risks than we would on later test flights,” an official said.

The mission is slated to last six weeks to allow for “all kinds of maneuvers” as the rocket orbits the moon to perform tests.

About Orion

According to the Kennedy Space Center, “Artemis I is the first test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems, with the Orion spacecraft launching atop the massive Space Launch System rocket. This mission is the first in a series of missions to demonstrate NASA’s ability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond.”

The spacecraft, Orion, takes its name from the largest constellation in the night sky, according to NASA.

“Rollout of the 32-story-tall Space Launch System rocket and its Orion crew capsule marks a key milestone in U.S. plans for renewed lunar exploration after years of setbacks, and the public’s first glimpse of a space vehicle more than a decade in development,” Reuters reported of launch pad tests in March.

“The SLS-Orion, which cost some $37 billion to develop including ground systems, constitutes the backbone of the NASA’s Artemis program, aimed at returning astronauts to the moon and establishing a long-term lunar colony as a precursor to eventual human exploration of Mars,” the article said.

According to USA Today, NASA’s moon-focused Space Launch System rocket stands 322 feet tall and “promises to be the biggest, most powerful rocket to launch from Florida’s Space Coast in years — bringing with it a level of excitement to match.”

Gathering crowds

Recent SpaceX Crew Dragon launches that take astronauts to the International Space Station from the space center have drawn as many as a quarter-million visitors, Peter Cranis, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism, told USA Today.

“I think the crewed launches and these Artemis launches are going to be of equal interest to people,” Cranis said. “I would expect certainly over 100,000, if not more, coming for that.”

“We are expecting capacity crowds at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for the upcoming Artemis launch,” said Therrin Protze, the visitor complex’s chief operating officer, according to Florida Today. “(The visitor complex) will offer special Artemis launch viewing packages that will include some of the closest public viewing opportunities with distinctive experiences like live commentary from space experts and access to select exhibits and attractions.”

The article said area hotels are offering spaced-themed deals and some are sold out while others are selling out fast.

Meanwhile, the space center is selling viewing packages online that provide access to special locations in designated parking lots 8 miles from the launch pad. The tickets are $99 a person. “You will see the launch as soon as the rocket clears the tree line,” according to the ticket page.

They’re reportedly selling fast.