In Houston, NASA in action to return to the moon
Science and Technology

In Houston, NASA in action to return to the moon

Posted on Monday, August 15, 2022 at 8:10 pm

“I’ve worked here for 37 years, and it’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved in.” Rick LaBrude is NASA’s Flight Director, and at the end of the month, he’s on a historic space mission: the first in the program to mark the return of Americans to the Moon.

“I won’t be able to sleep much, that’s for sure,” he told AFP the day before takeoff, in front of dozens of screens in the flight control room in Houston, Texas.

For the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972, a rocket – the world’s most powerful – will propel a habitable capsule into orbit around the Moon, before returning to Earth.

Starting in 2024, astronauts will board for the same flight, and the following year (at the earliest), they will set foot on the moon again.

For this 42-day trial mission, called Artemis 1, about ten people will be at all times in the popular “Mission Control Center” room, which has been updated for the occasion.

The teams have been practicing the flight plan for three years.

“It’s all new. All-new rocket, all-new ship, all-new control center,” sums up Brian Berry, who will be at the course controller right after launch.

“I can tell you my heart is going ‘bum bam bam bam’, but I’m going to make sure I stay focused,” he told AFP, patting his chest, which has taken part in several space shuttle flights.

– moon pool –

Outside the control room, the entire Johnson Space Center in Houston is set to lunar timing.

In the center of the huge pond more than 12 meters deep where the astronauts train, a black curtain was drawn.

On one side remains the submerged replica of the International Space Station.

On the other hand, a lunar environment is gradually being created at the bottom of the aquarium, with giant models of rocks, made by a company specializing in aquarium decorations.

“We started putting sand at the bottom of the pond just a few months ago. The big boulders arrived two weeks ago,” Lisa Shore, deputy head of the Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) told AFP. “Everything is still under development.”

In the water, astronauts can experience a sensation close to weightlessness. For lunar training, they are weighed so that they feel only one-sixth of their own weight.

From a room above the pool, they are instructed in the distance, with a four-second time difference they would encounter on the moon.

Six astronauts have already been trained there, and six more will follow by the end of September, wearing the new NASA lunar suits for the first time.

“The heyday of this building was when we were still flying shuttles and building the space station,” said John Haas, president of NBL. At the time, 400 combined training sessions were conducted annually, compared to about 150 training sessions today. But the Artémis program is bringing new impetus.

At the time of the AFP visit, engineers and divers were evaluating how to propel a rover on the lunar surface.

– ‘The new golden age’ –

Water workouts can last up to six hours. “It’s like running a marathon twice, but on your hands,” NASA astronaut Victor Glover, back after six months in space, told AFP.

Today, he works in a building entirely dedicated to simulators. His role is to help “check the procedures and materials”, so that when those who are going to the moon are finally chosen (of which Mr. Glover could be one of them), they can be intensively prepared and quickly ready to “go”.

Thanks to virtual reality headsets, they will be able to get used to walking in the difficult lighting conditions of the south pole of the moon, where the Artemis missions will land. There, the sun rises very little above the horizon, constantly forming very long black shadows.

They will also have to learn about new ships and their programs, such as the Orion capsule. In one of the simulators, sitting in the commander’s seat, you have to give 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, was used in life-size exercises.

Astronauts “do a lot of emergency evacuation drills here,” explains AFP Debbie Kurth, deputy director of the Orion project, which I’ve worked on for more than a decade.

“People are excited,” it says throughout the space center.

For NASA, “certainly, I think it has begun a new golden age.”

#Houston #NASA #action #return #moon

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