NASA continues to prepare for a crucial test that will pave the way for the launch of its Artemis 1 moon mission.
Artemis 1 will use a giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to send an Orion capsule on an uncrewed trip around the moon. It will be the first-ever flight for the SLS and the second for Orion, which aced an uncrewed trip to Earth orbit in 2014.
NASA rolled the Artemis 1 SLS-Orion stack out to the launch pad at Florida's Kennedy Space Center last week for a series of tests. The most important of these is a "wet dress rehearsal," which will take the SLS and Orion through most of their launch-day procedures, including fueling of the massive rocket. (That's what "wet" refers to.)
Technicians have ticked off a number of boxes ahead of the wet dress rehearsal, which is tentatively planned for April 3 or thereabouts. For example, they've "connected numerous ground support equipment elements to the rocket and spacecraft, including electrical, fuel environmental control system ducts and cryogenic propellant lines," NASA officials wrote in an update on Wednesday (opens in new tab) (March 23).
"Engineering testing is underway to ensure systems continue to operate as planned with the rocket and spacecraft now configured at the pad," they added. "Additionally, technicians will don self-contained atmospheric protective ensemble suits, or SCAPE suits, to practice operations in the event of an emergency at the pad during fueling and launch."
There is no launch date yet for Artemis 1; one will be chosen after teams have analyzed data from the wet dress rehearsal and other tests, NASA officials have said. (The mission probably won't launch earlier than this June.)
The roughly month-long Artemis 1 will be the first mission of NASA's Artemis program, which aims to establish a permanent presence on and around the moon by the end of the 2020s. If all goes according to plan, Artemis 2 will send astronauts around the moon in 2024, and Artemis 3 will land people on the lunar surface in 2025 or 2026.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.