(CNN) – For the first time in 50 years, a spacecraft is preparing to embark on a journey to the moon.
The unmanned Artemis I mission, which includes the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft, is scheduled to lift off August 29 between 8:33 a.m. ET and 10:33 a.m. ET from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
And while there was no human crew on board the mission, this is the first step in the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon and eventually land them on Mars.
The Orion spacecraft will enter a distant retrograde orbit of the Moon and travel 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) farther than any spacecraft intended to transport humans. The crew aboard Artemis II will travel on a similar path in 2024, and the first woman and next man to land on the moon are scheduled to reach the lunar south pole in late 2025 on the Artemis III mission.
The agency will share live views as well as coverage in English and Spanish before, during and after the Artemis I launch on its website and on NASA TV. The broadcast will begin at 12 a.m. ET when the super-cooled fuel is loaded onto the SLS rocket.
Featured as part of the program are celebrity appearances by Jack Black, Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, performances by Josh Groban, Herbie Hancock’s “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the Philadelphia Orchestra “America the Beautiful” and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Once the launch occurs, NASA will hold a post-launch briefing, and later that day the agency will share the first views of Earth from cameras aboard the Orion spacecraft.
Orion’s journey will take 42 days as it travels to the Moon, around it and back to Earth, traveling a total of 2.1 million kilometers (1.3 million miles). The capsule will land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on October 10.
Cameras in and out of Orion will share images and videos throughout the mission, including live views of Callisto’s experience, which will capture a series of model Commander Moonikin Campos sitting in the commander’s seat. If you have an Amazon Alexa-enabled device, you can ask it to locate a task every day.
This is all you can expect before, during and after launch.
Countdown to launch
The countdown to the official launch began on August 27 at 10:23 AM ET.
Stations were called Saturday morning at the Kennedy Space Center, as well as for teams providing support from various centers around the country. That’s when all teams associated with the mission reach their consoles and report their readiness, starting with a two-day countdown.
Over the weekend, engineers will power the Orion spacecraft, the cryogenic intermediate propulsion stage (ICPS) – the top of the rocket – and the base stage, charge the batteries and do the final setup of the engines.
Late Sunday night through early Monday, the launch team will hold a briefing to discuss weather conditions and decide whether to “take off” or “not take off” to begin refueling the rocket.
If everything looks OK, the team will begin fueling the rocket’s core stage eight hours before launch. Five hours before, the upper stage will begin to refuel. The team will then fill and replenish liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that are dissipated during the refueling process.
Approximately 50 minutes before launch, the final briefing will be held by NASA’s Test Director. The planned 30-minute countdown will begin 40 minutes before launch.
The launch manager will poll the team to make sure all stations are “operating” 15 minutes before liftoff.
At 10 minutes and counting, things are on high gear as the spacecraft and rocket make their way through the final steps. A lot of events happen at the last minute, when the ground launch sequencer sends a command to the rocket’s flight computer’s automated launch sequencer to take more than 30 seconds before launch.
In the last few seconds, hydrogen will burn, and all four RS-25 engines will start, boosting fire and taking off the T-minus-zero.
Journey to the moon
After liftoff, the rocket’s boosters will separate from the spacecraft about two minutes into the flight and fall into the Atlantic Ocean, with other components also discarded soon after. The central portion of the rocket will separate after about eight minutes and fall into the Pacific Ocean, allowing the wings of Orion’s solar panel to emerge.
The lift maneuver will occur about 12 minutes after launch, when the ICPS experiences a burn to raise Orion’s altitude so it does not re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Shortly thereafter, the lunar injection burn occurs, when ICPS increases Orion’s speed from 17,500 mph (28,163 kph) to 22,600 mph (36,371 kph) to escape the gravitational force from Earth and go to the Moon.
After this burn, ICPS will separate from Orion.
At around 4:30 p.m., Orion will perform its first flight course correction using the European Service Module, which powers the spacecraft, propulsion and thermal control. This maneuver will put Orion on her way to the moon.
In the next few days after launch, Orion will go out to the moon, coming within 96 kilometers (60 miles) during its closest approach to the lunar surface on the sixth day of the flight, or September 3 if the launch goes as planned. August 29. The service module will put Orion into a distant retrograde orbit around the moon on September 10 or 7.
On September 8 when it orbits the Moon, Orion will surpass the distance record of 400,169 kilometers (248,654 miles), set by Apollo 13 in 1970. The spacecraft will reach its maximum distance from Earth of 450,616 kilometers (280,000 mi.) in September. 23 when he ventured 64,373 kilometers (40,000 miles) beyond the moon.
This is 48,280 kilometers (30,000 mi) more than the Apollo 13 record.
Orion will make its second closest approach to the lunar surface, 500 miles (804 kilometers) away on October 3. The service module will experience a burn that will allow the moon’s gravity to pull Orion back to Earth.
Before re-entering Earth’s atmosphere, the service module will separate from Orion. The spacecraft will hit the top of Earth’s atmosphere and travel at 25,000 miles per hour (40,233 kilometers per hour), and its heat shield will experience temperatures of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius).
The atmosphere will slow Orion to about 300 mph (482 kph), and a series of parachutes will slow it to less than 20 mph (32 kph) before hitting the Pacific Ocean at 11:53 a.m.
The live stream will be streamed live from NASA’s website, collecting views from 17 cameras aboard the rescue ship and helicopters awaiting Orion’s return.
The landing and recovery team will obtain the Orion capsule, and data collected by the spacecraft will determine the lessons learned before humans return to the moon.