TEMPE, AZ — On Monday, NASA is set to launch a new chapter in space exploration with the Artemis I mission, paving the way for humans to eventually return to the moon.
The launch of Artemis' "Space Launch System" rocket and accompanying the Orion spacecraft is step one in NASA's lunar exploration efforts, according to Chief Exploration Officer Jacob Bleacher.
"We'll be collecting a lot of data about both the vehicle and the system, as well as some science data to help us plan out those future missions with astronauts," Bleacher says.
For six weeks, the mission will test the performance of the rocket and spacecraft that will travel 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back to Earth.
The flight will be unmanned but the next two will have astronauts from different backgrounds, aiming to bring a new perspective to the future of space exploration.
"Artemis is going to give us the opportunity to see the first woman walk on the surface of the moon, as well as the first person of color," Bleacher says. "This is all about inclusion, diversity, and hard problems. Learning how to live in space, survive and even thrive out there in that in that potentially harsh environment. Those are hard problems and we really do need a diverse community of solutions to help with that."
The Artemis I mission also features a spacecraft designed at Arizona State University.
The Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper, or LunaH-Map, is a spacecraft the size of a shoebox. Its purpose is to map the lunar South Pole and find out how much water and ice is located there, according to ASU professor and LunaH-Map Principal Investigator Craig Hardgrove.
"Since we're a single instrument spacecraft, and we're very small, we're able to orbit the south pole of the moon from a very, very low altitude," Hargrove says. "Because of that, we're able to make a higher resolution map than other missions have been able to make. We'll be able to say whether or not the ice is down within those deep dark craters that nobody can access."