An illustration of a suited Artemis astronaut looking out of a Moon lander hatch across the lunar surface, the Lunar Terrain Vehicle and other surface elements.
Here's how NASA wants to send humans back to the moon
04:10 - Source: CNN Business

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The Artemis I mega moon rocket has been fully fueled for the first time.

The crucial test, known as the wet dress rehearsal, simulates every stage of launch without the rocket leaving the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This process includes loading supercold propellant, going through a full countdown simulating launch, resetting the countdown clock and draining the rocket tanks.

The results of the wet dress rehearsal will determine when the uncrewed Artemis I will launch on a mission that goes beyond the moon and returns to Earth. This mission will kick off NASA’s Artemis program, which is expected to return humans to the moon and land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface by 2025.

Three previous attempts at the wet dress rehearsal in April were unsuccessful, concluding before the rocket could be fully loaded with propellant due to various leaks. These have since been corrected, NASA says.

The NASA team rolled the 322-foot-tall (98-meter-tall) Artemis I rocket stack, including the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, back to the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 6.

Wet dress rehearsal steps

The wet dress rehearsal began at 5 p.m. ET Saturday with a “call to stations” – when all of the teams associated with the mission arrive at their consoles and report they’re ready for the test to begin and kick off a two-day countdown.

Preparations over the weekend set up the Artemis team to start loading propellant into the rocket’s core and upper stages Monday morning.

The test will air live on NASA’s website, with commentary, beginning at 7 a.m. ET on Monday.

A two-hour test window will begin in the afternoon, with the Artemis team targeting the first countdown at 2:40 p.m. ET.

First, they will go through a countdown to 33 seconds before launch, then stop the cycle. The clock will be reset, then the countdown will resume again and run until about 10 seconds before a launch would occur.

The previous wet dress rehearsal attempts have already completed many objectives to prepare the rocket for launch, Blackwell-Thompson said.

“We hope to finish them off this time around and get through the cryogenic loading operations along with terminal count,” she said. “Our team is ready to go and we’re looking forward to getting back to this test.”

The mission team is looking at possible launch windows for sending Artemis I on its journey to the moon in late summer: August 23 to August 29, September 2 to September 6 and beyond.

Once the Artemis rocket stack completes its wet dress rehearsal, it will roll back into the space center’s Vehicle Assembly Building to wait for launch day.

There is a long history behind the arduous process to test new systems before launching a rocket, and what the Artemis team is facing is similar to what the Apollo and shuttle era teams experienced, including multiple test attempts and delays before launch.

“There’s not a single person on the team that shies away from the responsibility that we have to manage ourselves and our contractors and to deliver, and deliver means meeting those flight test objectives for (Artemis I), and meeting the objectives of the Artemis I program,” said Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, during the news conference.