Over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence announced that NASA had completed work on the Orion crew capsule, which will carry both male and female astronauts on the upcoming Artemis 1 mission to the moon. After that, NASA plans to use the Orion crew capsule to get astronauts to Mars.
“Thanks to the hard work of the men and women of NASA, and of American industry, the Orion crew vehicle for the Artemis 1 mission is complete and ready to begin preparations for its historic first flight,” said Vice President Pence in a press statement.
With the announcement made in conjunction with NASA's celebration of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing, Pence spoke with an array of figures connected both to the space program's present and past. They included NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Apollo 11 Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, Kennedy Center Director Robert Cabana, Lockheed Martin Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson, Rick Armstrong, son of Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong, and Florida Governor Rick DeSantis.
“President Trump and Vice President Pence have given us a bold direction to return to the moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars," Bridenstine said. "Their direction is not empty rhetoric. They have backed up their vision with the budget requests need to accomplish this objective. NASA is calling this the Artemis program in honor of Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, the goddess of the moon. And we are well on our way to getting this done.”
The module itself was built NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and then shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Power and propulsion for the Orion will be provided by the European Space Agency, which built and delivered the European Service Module late last year. With the module and the ESM both complete, work will now begin on integrating the two systems.
When joined, the module will be tested at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio to make sure it can withstand the rigors of deep space. From there it will be back to Kennedy for final preparations, and then it will be deemed ready to carry astronauts into the great void with help from a Space Launch System rocket, if that can meet its own deadlines.
While the Trump Administration has announced support for the Artemis program, which plans to create conditions for a permanent settlement on and orbiting the moon, and then use those settlements to help astronauts get to Mars, the President has expressed pessimism regarding the plan.
"For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - We did that 50 years ago," he said in a tweet from early June. More recently, Trump pitted Aldrin and his crewmate Michael Collins against Bridenstine in an improptu debate on the merits of the Artemis program.
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