NASA’s Artemis Campaign Takes Major Leap Towards Lunar Surface with Unmanned Orion Test Flight

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — In a significant step towards returning astronauts to the moon, NASA is partnering with private companies to launch robotic missions in the coming years. The latest mission, scheduled for Monday, involves a spacecraft owned by a commercial company that will attempt a landing on the lunar surface on February 23. If successful, this will be the first American soft landing on the moon in over 50 years.

The mission, led by Astrobotic, will also mark the debut of United Launch Alliance’s new rocket, Vulcan. The Pentagon is eager to use this rocket for national security missions, but ULA needs to complete two certification missions before being allowed to launch satellites for the Defense Department.

This launch is also significant for Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Jeff Bezos. Two BE-4 engines manufactured by Blue Origin will power the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan rocket. The engine deal was announced in 2014 after ULA, which had been using Russian engines, was forced to find a domestic supplier. Monday’s launch will be the first flight of the engines.

In addition to the Astrobotic mission, another company called Intuitive Machines is scheduled to launch its lander to the moon in mid-February. They are aiming for a landing on February 22, which would make them the first commercial entity to achieve a lunar landing.

These missions are part of NASA’s larger Artemis campaign, which aims to return astronauts to the moon. The agency is working towards the second flight of the Orion spacecraft around the moon, this time with four people on board. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the flight, known as Artemis II, is currently scheduled for late this year.

As these missions unfold, other significant space events are also planned for 2024. Japan’s space agency plans to land a robotic vehicle on the moon, Axiom plans to launch a private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, and SpaceX will continue testing its Starship rocket and spacecraft.

In summary, NASA and private companies are collaborating to launch robotic missions to the moon, with the goal of eventually returning astronauts. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are preparing for lunar landings, while Japan, Axiom, and SpaceX have their own space missions planned for 2024. These endeavors mark an exciting new chapter in space exploration.