NASA Tests New Moon Rocket, 50 Years After Apollo

Years late and billions over budget, NASA’s new moon rocket makes its debut next week in a high-stakes test flight before astronauts get on top.

The 98-meter (322-foot) rocket will attempt to send an empty crew capsule into a far-flung lunar orbit, 50 years after NASA’s famed Apollo moonshots.

If all goes well, astronauts could strap in as soon as 2024 for a lap around the moon, with NASA aiming to land two people on the lunar surface by the end of 2025.

Liftoff is set for Monday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The six-week test flight is risky and could be cut short if something fails, NASA officials warn.

“We’re going to stress it and test it. We’re going make it do things that we would never do with a crew on it in order to try to make it as safe as possible,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The retired founder of George Washington University’s space policy institute said a lot is riding on this trial run. Spiraling costs and long gaps between missions will make for a tough comeback if things go south, he noted.

“It is supposed to be the first step in a sustained program of human exploration of the moon, Mars, and beyond,” said John Logsdon. “Will the United States have the will to push forward in the face of a major malfunction?”

The price tag for this single mission: more than $4 billion. Add everything up since the program’s inception a decade ago until a 2025 lunar landing, and there’s even more sticker shock: $93 billion.

Here’s a rundown of the first flight of the Artemis program, named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister.

Rocket power

The new rocket is shorter and slimmer than the Saturn V rockets that hurled 24 Apollo astronauts to the moon a half-century ago. But it’s mightier, packing 8.8 million pounds (4 million kilograms) of thrust. It’s called the Space Launch System rocket, SLS for short, but a less clunky name is under discussion, according to Nelson. Unlike the streamlined Saturn V, the new rocket has a pair of strap-on boosters refashioned from NASA’s space shuttles. The boosters will peel away after two minutes, just like the shuttle boosters did, but won’t be fished from the Atlantic for reuse. The core stage will keep firing before separating and crashing into the Pacific in pieces. Two hours after liftoff, an upper stage will send the capsule, Orion, racing toward the moon.

Moonship

NASA’s high-tech, automated Orion capsule is named after the constellation, among the night sky’s brightest. At 3 meters (11 feet) tall, it’s roomier than Apollo’s capsule, seating four astronauts instead of three. For this test flight, a full-size dummy in an orange flight suit will occupy the commander’s seat, rigged with vibration and acceleration sensors. Two other mannequins made of material simulating human tissue — heads and female torsos, but no limbs — will measure cosmic radiation, one of the biggest risks of spaceflight. One torso is testing a protective vest from Israel. Unlike the rocket, Orion has launched before, making two laps around Earth in 2014. This time, the European Space Agency’s service module will be attached for propulsion and solar power via four wings.

Flight plan

Orion’s flight is supposed to last six weeks from its Florida liftoff to Pacific splashdown, twice as long as astronaut trips in order to tax the systems. It will take nearly a week to reach the moon, 386,000 kilometers (240,000 miles) away. After whipping closely around the moon, the capsule will enter a distant orbit with a far point of 61,000 kilometers (38,000 miles). That will put Orion 450,000 kilometers (280,000 miles) from Earth, farther than Apollo. The big test comes at mission’s end, as Orion hits the atmosphere at 40,000 kph (25,000 mph) on its way to a splashdown in the Pacific. The heat shield uses the same material as the Apollo capsules to withstand reentry temperatures of 2,750 degrees Celsius (5,000 degrees Fahrenheit). But the advanced design anticipates the faster, hotter returns by future Mars crews.

Hitchhikers

Besides three test dummies, the flight has a slew of stowaways for deep space research. Ten shoebox-size satellites will pop off once Orion is hurtling toward the moon. The problem is these so-called CubeSats were installed in the rocket a year ago, and the batteries for half of them couldn’t be recharged as the launch kept getting delayed. NASA expects some to fail, given the low-cost, high-risk nature of these mini satellites. The radiation-measuring CubeSats should be OK. Also, in the clear: a solar sail demo targeting an asteroid. In a back-to-the-future salute, Orion will carry a few slivers of moon rocks collected by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969, and a bolt from one of their rocket engines, salvaged from the sea a decade ago. Aldrin isn’t attending the launch, according to NASA, but three of his former colleagues will be there: Apollo 7’s Walter Cunningham, Apollo 10’s Tom Stafford and Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmitt, the next-to-last man to walk on the moon.

Apollo vs. Artemis

More than 50 years later, Apollo still stands as NASA’s greatest achievement. Using 1960s technology, NASA took just eight years to go from launching its first astronaut, Alan Shepard, and landing Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon. By contrast, Artemis already has dragged on for more than a decade, despite building on the short-lived moon exploration program Constellation. Twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 through 1972, staying no longer than three days at a time. For Artemis, NASA will be drawing from a diverse astronaut pool currently numbering 42 and is extending the time crews will spend on the moon to at least a week. The goal is to create a long-term lunar presence that will grease the skids for sending people to Mars. NASA’s Nelson, promises to announce the first Artemis moon crews once Orion is back on Earth.

What’s next

There’s a lot more to be done before astronauts step on the moon again. A second test flight will send four astronauts around the moon and back, perhaps as early as 2024. A year or so later, NASA aims to send another four up, with two of them touching down at the lunar south pole. Orion doesn’t come with its own lunar lander like the Apollo spacecraft did, so NASA has hired Elon Musk’s SpaceX to provide its Starship spacecraft for the first Artemis moon landing. Two other private companies are developing moonwalking suits. The sci-fi-looking Starship would link up with Orion at the moon and take a pair of astronauts to the surface and back to the capsule for the ride home. So far, Starship has only soared 10 kilometers (six miles). Musk wants to launch Starship around Earth on SpaceX’s Super Heavy Booster before attempting a moon landing without a crew. One hitch: Starship will need a fill-up at an Earth-orbiting fuel depot, before heading to the moon.

Source: Voice of America

Flash flooding hits Northern Laos

Continuous heavy rain on Aug. 26-27 has caused floods posing damages to people’s houses, basic infrastructure, and hundreds of hectares of farmland in northern provinces Luang Prabang and Phongsaly.

Flood-caused damages were mostly reported in Khua district in Phongsaly and Nambak district of Luang Prabang.

“Some 97 houses in Salongsay, Hadnang, Boumphan villages of Khau district were severely affected by flooding,” Governor of Khua District Vongdeau Phoumy said yesterday.

In Phongsaly, the Phak River quickly burst its banks and flooded three villages. Damages caused by the natural disaster have been estimated at 5.6 billion kip.

Some 60 families in three villages were affected in Nambak district, Luang Prabang. Approximately 100 hectares of rice and other cash crops were affected.

An ad hoc committee has been formed and they are observing the situation closely, according to the local official. Rice, medicines, and other daily necessities have been donated to help the flood victims.

Early this month, Aug 6-9, floods were reported in Vientiane and other provinces. The disasters caused damages to people’s property, basic infrastructure, and hundreds of hectares of farmland.

Transport along national roads including No 1E, 1B and Road 13 North, has been interrupted.

Early this month, Aug 6-9, floods were reported in Vientiane and other provinces. The disasters caused damages to people’s property, basic infrastructure, and hundreds of hectares of farmland.

Source: Lao News Agency

NASA Moon Rocket on Track for Launch Despite Lightning Hits

NASA’s new moon rocket remained on track to blast off on a crucial test flight Monday, despite a series of lightning strikes at the launch pad.

The 322-foot (98-meter) Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful ever built by NASA. It’s poised to send an empty crew capsule into lunar orbit, a half-century after NASA’s Apollo program, which landed 12 astronauts on the moon.

Astronauts could return to the moon in a few years, if this six-week test flight goes well. NASA officials caution, however, that the risks are high and the flight could be cut short.

In lieu of astronauts, three test dummies are strapped into the Orion capsule to measure vibration, acceleration and radiation, one of the biggest hazards to humans in deep space. The capsule alone has more than 1,000 sensors.

Officials said Sunday that neither the rocket nor capsule suffered any damage during Saturday’s thunderstorm; ground equipment also was unaffected. Five lightning strikes were confirmed, hitting the 600-foot (183-meter) towers surrounding the rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The strikes weren’t strong enough to warrant major retesting.

“Clearly, the system worked as designed,” said Jeff Spaulding, NASA’s senior test director.

More storms were expected. Although forecasters gave 80 percent odds of acceptable weather Monday morning, conditions were expected to deteriorate during the two-hour launch window.

On the technical side, Spaulding said the team did its best over the past several months to eliminate any lingering fuel leaks. A pair of countdown tests earlier this year prompted repairs to leaking valves and other faulty equipment; engineers won’t know if all the fixes are good until just a few hours before the planned liftoff.

After so many years of delays and setbacks, the launch team was thrilled to finally be so close to the inaugural flight of the Artemis moon-exploration program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology.

“We’re within 24 hours of launch right now, which is pretty amazing for where we’ve been on this journey,” Spaulding told reporters.

The follow-on Artemis flight, as early as 2024, would see four astronauts flying around the moon. A landing could follow in 2025. NASA is targeting the moon’s unexplored south pole, where permanently shadowed craters are believed to hold ice that could be used by future crews.

Source: Voice of America

Lao, Vietnamese Journalists’ Associations enhance cooperation

The Lao Journalists’ Association (LJA) and the Vietnam Journalists’ Association (VJA) have agreed to further enhance cooperation with the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation for the 2022-2027 period in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Aug 27.

Signatories to the document were LJA Chairman Savankhone Razmountry and his Vietnamese counterpart Lê Qu?c Minh.

Under the MoU, the two sides will continue to strengthen cooperation on exchanging information on political, economic and social aspects of the two countries, considering that this is an important factor in contributing to enhancing the great friendship, special solidarity and comprehensive cooperation between Laos and Vietnam.

Two sides will also strengthen cooperation on training and promoting the professional skills and ethics of their respective journalists.

Addressing the signing event, LJA Chairman Savankhone highlighted the significant developments in the relationship between the two countries, and between the two national journalists’ associations.

Source: Lao News Agency