The US space organisation’s Artemis program is part of a challenge to accelerate exploration plans by more than four years and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.
The proposed moon voyage will be the first time humans have been sent to Earth’s satellite since the last Apollo lunar mission in 1972.
“With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the moon is well within America’s reach,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
“We’re going back to the moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new a generation of explorers.
“As we build up a sustainable presence, we’re also building momentum toward those first human steps on the Red Planet [Mars].”
NASA’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft are being readied for their first integrated launch.
The spacecraft is complete while the core stage and its attached four engines are undergoing a final series of tests that will culminate in a critical hot fire test, where the engines are run at full capacity, over the next few months.
If successful, NASA will then launch an SLS and an Orion together on two flight tests around the moon to check performance, life support, and communication capabilities, a NASA spokesman said.
The first mission — known as Artemis I — is on track for 2021 without astronauts, and Artemis II will fly with crew in 2023.
NASA will also conduct a new test during the Artemis II mission, getting astronauts to manually pilot Orion as they approach and back away from the stage.
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