NASA said Friday it is now targeting February 2022 for the unmanned lunar mission Artemis 1, the first step in America’s plan to return humans to the Moon later this decade.
The space agency initially wanted to begin test flights by the end of this year, with astronauts on the ground on Artemis 3 by 2024, but the timeline has slipped back.
It achieved a major milestone Wednesday when it stacked the Orion crew capsule atop its Space Launch System megarocket, which now stands 322 feet (98 meters) tall, inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Officials told reporters on a call that after further tests, it would be taken to the launch pad in January for a final test known as a “weight dress rehearsal.”
“The February launch period opens on the 12th and our last chance in February is on the 27th,” Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin said.
The next windows are in March and then in April.
These possible launch periods are dependent on orbital mechanics and the relative position of the Earth with respect to its natural satellite.
The mission duration is expected to be four to six weeks.
It will also deploy several smaller satellites, known as CubeSats, to perform experiments and technology.
Although likely to be pushed back, Artemis 2 is technically scheduled for 2023 and Artemis 3 for 2024, humanity’s return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
NASA says the moonwalkers will be among the first women to travel and the first people of color.
The space agency is trying to establish a permanent presence on the Moon, and wants to use the lessons learned to plan a crewed trip to Mars in the 2030s.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)