ITV News Correspondent Robert Moore reports on the mission to put people back on the lunar surface after a 50-year absence
On December 14, 1972, at 10.54pm British time, the last astronauts to have walked on the moon left the lunar surface and headed back to Earth.
Apollo 17 was the last flight of that space programme, and it led to a 50-year void in moon missions. Today, at 1.33pm UK time - if all goes according to the launch plan - NASA will begin the successor mission to Apollo.
The new programme is called Artemis, and for those who know their Greek mythology, she is the twin sister of Apollo. The Artemis 1 flight today is without a crew. This is a just test flight, checking the SLS rocket and the Orion space capsule are safe.
There will instead be mannequins aboard - in this case, called 'moonequins' - with multiple sensors attached. A free-floating cuddly Snoopy toy will also be aboard Orion as a zero-gravity monitor.
Next in the line of missions is Artemis 2, to be launched in 2024, that will carry astronauts, but not land on the moon. Artemis 3, scheduled for the end of 2025, will be first to touch down on the lunar surface, landing on the moon's south pole. Notably, it will include the first woman on a lunar mission. In other words, Artemis is going to be NASA’s most inclusive and diverse space programme, an acknowledgement that the agency's old macho culture of having test pilots with the “right stuff” ended up elevating exclusively white men into the astronaut corps. It’s going to be an exciting launch - the most powerful rocket ever to leave earth. Artemis 1 will take off from NASA’s iconic 39B pad, the same site used by the Apollo missions.
NASA’s leadership is stressing this first flight is experimental in nature. “We’re going to stress it and test it. We’re going to 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,” Bill Nelson, the NASA Administrator, made clear. Orion will remain in space longer than any human spacecraft in history, excluding those missions that docked at the space station. The capsule will return to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean in mid-October. There are critics of the programme who cite its $100 billion price tag. Some say that NASA should be doing robotic deep space exploration instead. But the whole point of Artemis is to put humans back into the exploration business, to excite a nation - and to inspire a new generation of engineers and astronauts. And it all starts today.
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