Friday, November 18, 2022

Artemis Finally Blasts Off - And One Hopes The Trio Of Anatomical Dummies Aboard Survive


                                           Artemis 1 finally blasts off early Tuesday

            Artemis mission trajectory to round the Moon and back in 26 days

The Artemis lunar program mission finally got off to a rumbling, roaring start early Tuesday, with the launch of Artemis I - the first in a series that is supposed to have us landing back on the Moon by 2025.  Somehow, I doubt that target will be met, given what transpired Tuesday at Cape Canaveral was supposed to have already occurred in 2017.   That means the program is already five years behind its original target landing date.

NASA Inspector General Paul Martin also is not convinced the mission will land on the Moon with a human crew before late 2026.  This contradicting NASA Director Bill Nelson who argued (in the same segment) that 2025 "is doable."  But according to Martin - see the clip below from his interview:

NASA's inspector general projects agency will spend $93 billion on Artemis through 2025 - YouTube

What caused the delay in finally getting Artemis I launched?  A series of hydrogen fuel leaks plagued several launch attempts as well as countdown tests and dicey weather on one occasion. A fresh leak also erupted at a new spot during Tuesday night’s fueling, but an emergency team tightened the faulty valve on the pad. None of this is inspiring news and hearkens back to Martin's argument that cost overruns are happening and have already sent the project back some $40 b.  One wonders what has caused these overruns, but one possibility is shoddy mechanical workmanship - which may account for the recurring leaks.

Anyway, the Orion capsule at the top of Artemis should reach the Moon by Monday, more than 230,000 miles from Earth. After coming within 80 miles of the lunar surface, the capsule will enter a farflung orbit reaching 270,000 miles distant from Earth  - or 1,000 times more than the space station.

This $4.1 billion test flight is set to last 25 days, about the same as when the actual crew steps aboard. With good reason NASA intends to push the spacecraft to its limits and uncover any problems before astronauts strap in. The current mission will instead feature two imitation human torsos and one anatomically designed test dummy which NASA has nicknamed "Commander Moonikin Campos".  This dummy (see below) will be in the normal launch position and properly outfitted like a real human astronaut would.

                                        Capt. 'Moonikin Campos - Test Dummy #1

 The dummies will help NASA gauge the performance of the Orion spacecraft, and the safety of the astronauts who eventually will fly it to the moon. Commander Moonikin will be wearing a suit embedded with sensors to measure radiation levels, vibration, acceleration and cosmic radiation. Meanwhile the Helga and Zohar torsos will sport vests designed to lower radiation exposure.  See the latter pair below:

                               'Helga' and 'Zohar'  Test Torsos - Not sure which is which

NASA chief Bill Nelson cautioned “things will go wrong” during this test flight demo. A few minor issues even cropped up early in the flight, although preliminary indications were the boosters and engines performed well.

Why go to all this trouble and expense?  Ultimately, NASA hopes to establish a base on the moon and send astronauts to Mars by the late 2030s or early 2040s.  But numerous hurdles still need to be cleared, such as how well astronauts handle the radiation exposure.  Of course, there will always be the Nervous Nellies, if not fretting over safety then over the costs.

One such denizen is Duke University historian Alex Roland who questions the value of human spaceflight, period.  He insists plain old robots and remote-controlled spacecraft could get the job done more cheaply, efficiently and safely.  He says - quoted in a WSJ piece yesterday:

In all these years, no evidence has emerged to justify the investment we have made in human spaceflight — save the prestige involved in this conspicuous consumption,” 

 This may well be true, but it's short-sighted. As Isaac Asimov said in one of his lectures:  

"It makes no sense to keep all our 'eggs' on this one small planet which could be annihilated with one major asteroid impact.  Ask the dinosaurs."

Artemis for sure will carry its own unique risks, but that is the nature of space exploration and crossing new frontiers in general.  But limiting our species' dispersal because of economically skewed cost-benefit myopia doesn't reckon in that a Torino 9 asteroid (Planet killer) would leave us with upward of $100 trillion damage and 8 billion lives lost.  Which is better?  If you answer a steppingstone into space, then that means a very large investment.  But it's still not equal to all the capital we've spent since 1945  developing nuclear weapons (an estimated $12 trillion).

Artemis 1 is the first flight of the new Space Launch System. This is a “heavy lift” vehicle, as NASA refers to it. It is the most powerful rocket engine ever flown to space, even more powerful than Apollo’s Saturn V system that took astronauts to the Moon in the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s a new type of rocket system, because it has both a combination of liquid oxygen and hydrogen main engines and two strap-on solid rocket boosters derived from the space shuttle. It’s really a hybrid between the space shuttle and Apollo’s Saturn V rocket.  

Let's hope the trio of dummies survives this first test run and we get to see actual humans again set foot on the Moon in 2025, or 2026.



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