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NASA poised to launch Alabama designed moon rocket

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Engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville will be watching the upcoming test launch of a new rocket closely. NASA is poised to send its new Space Launch System booster on a forty two day mission around the moon. The Marshall Space Center designed, managed and tested the so-called Artemis One test vehicle. NASA administrator Bill Nelson told reporters the mission includes a shakedown flight of the Orion capsule that could carry astronauts to the moon.

“One of the things is the heat shield. It’s a test flight. The heat shield hasn’t been flown before. That’s why you do a no crew test flight first,” said Nelson.

One role of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is testing engines for space missions. That includes the Saturn five that carried astronauts to the moon in the 1960’s and 70’s, the space shuttle’s main engines, and the new lunar rocket known as the Space Launch System. The new test flight of Artemis One includes a shoebox sized satellite that will use a solar sail as propulsion to visit an asteroid. Nelson says the rocket will also try a new maneuver to go into lunar orbit.

“That rocket going to the moon, has got to pull a left hook, and go into an elliptical orbit around the moon like it’s the face of a clock, facing us…so that’s a new maneuver,” he said.

The goal is to eventually put astronauts on the moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972. That’s when veteran astronaut Gene Cernan and rookie Harrison Schmitt explored the Taurus-Littrow valley near the Sea of Serenity on the moon. Cernan was the last man to walk on the lunar surface.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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