When will NASA send SLS and Orion on the first Artemis mission around the Moon?

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NASA is sending astronauts back to the Moon for the first since Apollo 17 in 1972. The new space exploration program is called Artemis, and the first Artemis mission is just months away from happening. A new report though begs the question of when will NASA truly launch Artemis 1?

How many months is anyone’s guess, however, as the space agency completes preparation for Space Launch System, or SLS, which will send the Orion capsule around the Moon on Artemis I. The mission is an uncrewed lunar flyby task with the objective of rating SLS and Orion for human spaceflight.

Publicly, NASA is aiming to launch SLS by the end of 2021. Internally, talk of a spring launch in 2022 is more likely. Eric Berger for Ars Technica published a piece today citing sources who view summer 2022 as probable for liftoff.

Publicly NASA is still holding onto the possibility of a 2021 launch date for the debut flight of its Space Launch System rocket. This week, an agency spokesperson told Ars that “NASA is working toward a launch for the Artemis I mission by the end of this year.”

However, a source said the best-case scenario for launching the Artemis 1 mission is spring of next year, with summer the more realistic target for a test flight of the heavy lift rocket and Orion spacecraft. The space agency is already running about two months behind internal targets for testing and integrating the rocket at Kennedy Space Center, and the critical pre-flight tests remain ahead.

NASA acknowledges that SLS remains behind schedule for conducting necessary tests before Artemis I can happen, but it hasn’t yet publicly stated that Artemis I will slip into next year.

At any rate, the decade-in-the-making mission could be six to nine months away at most. That’s a huge boost for the Artemis program and NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion hardware which hasn’t seen its first mission realized yet.

NASA will send the first woman and person of color to the Moon through the Artemis program. The first crewed lunar flyby mission is Artemis II, followed by the return of humans to the Moon with Artemis III. That mission is slated to occur in the next five years.

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