NASA’s unmanned Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will blast into space on Monday morning, sending the Orion exploration spacecraft soaring more than 40,000 miles past the moon on a six-week journey, if all goes to plan.
The launch, part of the Artemis program, will lay the groundwork for the space agency to send astronauts back to the moon for the first time in 50 years.
Here’s what you need to know about the launch.
Takeoff bash will feature celebrity guests
NASA said in a blog post Saturday there will be a two-hour launch window, beginning at 8:33 a.m on Monday.
As of Sunday, NASA said weather conditions looked favorable for the rocket’s blastoff to the moon from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
For those interested in watching, NASA will have a live stream available beginning at midnight. A full list of where to stream the launch, including on NASA’s website and social media pages, can be found here.
During the launch ceremony, actors Jack Black, Chris Evans and Keke Palmer will make live appearances, NASA said earlier this month.
Jazz composer Herbie Hancock and singer-songwriter Josh Groban will perform “The Star Spangled Banner,” while the Philadelphia Orchestra, along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, will perform “America the Beautiful.”
Agency officials, including NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, will deliver remarks and answer questions at a postlaunch conference around noon.
Key to the future of moon exploration
Monday’s test launch, called Artemis I, is the first in a series of integrated tests for NASA’s Artemis program, designed to get American astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.
The test will determine the capabilities of SLS, the most powerful launch rocket in the world, and the Orion exploration spacecraft, which rides on top of SLS and will one day carry astronauts to the moon.
After launching into space on Monday morning, SLS will fall back to the planet. Orion will continue its flight around the moon before it returns and splashes back down to Earth. A full map of Orion’s trajectory is available here.
If Monday’s test goes well, the second test launch, called Artemis II, will include a crewed flight, with astronauts taking a ride on Orion for an estimated 10 days in space.
Artemis III will finally take astronauts to the moon’s south pole. NASA has a goal of sending the first woman and first person of color to the moon by 2025.
Opening doors to scientific discoveries
Artemis builds on the previous Apollo program, which sent astronauts to the moon from 1968 to 1972.
Those manned missions to the moon paved the way for crucial technology used today, including heart monitors, solar panels and automatic pool purifiers.
The Artemis program is expected to lead to more discoveries and scientific advancements.
Astronauts who journeyed to the moon with Apollo also collected 842 pounds of lunar rock samples during their space ventures.
Lunar rovers and unmanned vehicles cannot collect as much as a human astronaut, so sending crews back to the moon will be important to understanding geology. The moon holds key data about the formation of our planet and solar system, considering its rocky surface is relatively unchanged due to its stable environment.
Mike Sarafin, the Artemis I mission manager at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement this month that the Artemis program “will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known.”
“It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission,” Sarafin said.