In Houston, NASA is ready to return to the Moon
American astronauts should set foot on the Moon in 2025 at the earliest... as part of the Artemis program.
"I've been working here for 37 years, and this is the most exciting thing I've ever been involved in." Rick LaBrode is a flight director at NASA, and at the end of the month, it is under his responsibility that a historic space mission will take place: the first in the program that should mark the return of Americans to the Moon. The day before takeoff, "I won't be able to sleep much, that's for sure", he confided to AFP, in front of the dozens of screens of the flight control room in Houston, Texas.
From 2024, astronauts will go on board to make the same journey, and the following year (at the earliest), they will put their foot on the Moon again. For this first 42-day test mission, called Artemis 1, a dozen people will be in the famous "Mission Control Center" room, modernized for the occasion. The teams have been rehearsing the flight plan for three years. "This is all completely new. A whole new rocket, a whole new ship, a whole new control center," summarizes Brian Perry, who will be at the console in charge of the trajectory right after launch. "I can tell you that my heart will go 'bam bam, bam bam,' but I'll make sure I stay focused," he told AFP, patting his chest, even though he's been on many space shuttle flights.
Beyond the control room, the entire Johnson Space Center in Houston has been put on Moon time. In the middle of the huge pool, more than 12 meters deep, where the astronauts train, a black curtain has been drawn. On one side is still the replica of the International Space Station underwater. On the other, a lunar environment is gradually being created at the bottom of the tank, with gigantic rock models, made by a company specializing in aquarium decorations. "We started putting sand at the bottom of the pool only a few months ago. The big rocks came in two weeks ago," Lisa Shore, deputy chief of this Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), told AFP. "Everything is still in development."
In the water, astronauts can experience a sensation close to weightlessness. For the lunar training, they are weighted so that they feel only one-sixth of their weight. From a room above the pool, they are guided from a distance, with the four-second time lag they will experience on the Moon. Six astronauts have already trained there, and six more are scheduled to follow by the end of September, donning Nasa's new lunar suits for the first time. "The golden age of this building was when we were still flying the shuttles and building the space station," said John Haas, head of the NBL. Back then, 400 suit trainings were conducted per year, compared to about 150 today. But the Artemis program brings a new impetus. At the time of AFP's visit, engineers and divers were evaluating how to push a cart on the Moon.
"New Golden Age"
Water workouts can last up to six hours. "It's like running a marathon, twice, but on your hands," Victor Glover, a NASA astronaut who returned last year from six months in space, tells AFP. Today, he works in a building entirely dedicated to simulators. His role is to help to "check the procedures and the material", so that when will be finally designated those who will go on the Moon (of which Mr. Glover could be a part), they can be prepared in an intensive way and be quickly "ready to leave".
Using virtual reality headsets, they will be able to get used to walking in the difficult light conditions of the Moon's South Pole, where the Artemis missions will land. There, the Sun rises only slightly above the horizon, constantly forming long, very dark shadows. They will also have to familiarize themselves with the new spacecraft and their software, such as the Orion capsule. In one of the simulators, sitting in the commander's seat, they have to use the joystick to dock with the future lunar space station, Gateway.
Elsewhere, a replica of the capsule, with a volume of 9 cubic meters for four passengers, is used for life-size rehearsals. Astronauts "do a lot of emergency evacuation training here," Debbie Korth, deputy manager of the Orion project, which she has been working on for more than a decade, told AFP. In all the space center, "people are overexcited", she assures. For NASA, "I think it's definitely a new golden age" that is beginning.
source : ( https://www.sciencesetavenir.fr/espace/exploration/a-houston-la-nasa-en-ordre-de-marche-pour-retourner-sur-la-lune_165610 )
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