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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

How Does NASA Achieve Its Goal of Returning to the Moon?

On Monday, NASA made its fourth attempt to complete a rehearsal countdown for the rocket that would send men to the moon. The countdown was generally successful.

However, officials from the agency stated that it was too soon to tell whether or not the dress rehearsal would be sufficient to give the green light for the rocket, which is known as the Space Launch System, to launch the Orion capsule on a test flight around the moon without any astronauts on board.

Even if the rehearsal countdown had been carried out without a hitch, it is quite improbable that the Artemis 1 mission would have launched any sooner than the middle of August. After more than half a century, when the Apollo 17 mission took place, the United States is planning to send astronauts back to the surface of the moon, and that mission will begin with that journey.

The fuel tanks of the rocket were loaded to capacity for the very first time while it sat on a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The tanks had a combined total of 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen. The issues that had arisen during the three previous efforts made in April have been resolved.

Nevertheless, a whole new issue emerged, which was a hydrogen leak coming from a fuel line link. The experts thought that by heating up the connection and then cooling it back down again, the seal would slip just enough to prevent the leakage from occurring. That did not work.

If this incident had occurred during an actual launch, the countdown for the rocket that was 322-feet tall would have ended prematurely.

The drill that took place on Monday, however, was what NASA refers to as a “wet dress rehearsal.” This type of drill gets its name from the fact that actual fuel was being pumped into the rocket’s propellant tanks during the exercise. This type of drill is intended to iron out any kinks in the procedure without the distraction of the engines firing up and the rocket launching into space.

While the countdown clock was stalled at T-10 minutes, engineers devised a strategy wherein a valve would be shut off in order to stop the leak, and faults would be covered up in order to enable the countdown to continue so that other rocket components and launch procedures could be tested.

The plans were given Ms. Blackwell-approval, Thompson’s and the countdown proceeded until, as was to be predicted, it came to an end when there were just 29 seconds remaining. After that, the rocket had its liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen emptied out of it.

On Tuesday, NASA officials said that they needed more time to go through the data in order to determine what, if anything, they still need to accomplish in order to feel comfortable launching the rocket. Both the Space Launch System and Orion, the capsule that will sit atop the Space Launch System and house the passengers, are necessary components for the Artemis mission, which is designed to return men to the moon.

According to Thomas Whitmeyer, the deputy assistant administrator for common exploration systems development at NASA, significant milestones include filling the propellant tanks and counting down so close to zero.

The rocket was hauled back to a massive workshop known as the Vehicle Assembly Building so that mechanics could more easily assess the issues and make repairs. Additionally, because of the delay, an off-site vendor was able to improve its equipment and continue supplying the Kennedy Space Center with nitrogen gas, which is used in the purging of dangerous gases. In two of the dress rehearsals, there were problems with the delivery of nitrogen, which caused the countdowns to be delayed.

It is possible that NASA will decide to carry out one more wet dress rehearsal, but it is also possible that it will determine that it has collected enough information and decide to roll the rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building one final time to make the final preparations for launch. These preparations will include installing the mechanism that will cause the rocket to self-destruct in the event that something goes wrong during the flight.

In the Artemis 1 mission, the rocket would lift off and the Orion capsule would be sent on a long journey around the moon. After then, it would make a complete round around the Earth before re-entering the atmosphere of the planet and crashing into the ocean below.

The second Artemis flight is planned to take place in 2024 and will be quite identical to the first one. However, this mission will not include a stop on the moon. The astronauts on Artemis 3 will make the first landing on the moon by humans since 1972. It has been suggested by NASA that the crewed mission would take place in 2025, although there is a possibility that this timeframe could be pushed back further.

A Boyle
I cover Science related topics for The National Era
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