Flying to the moon in 1972, Flying to the moon in 2022, big comets, and private flights – all this and more in NOVAC’s first weekly roundup: This Week In Space.
April 16th marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 16, the fifth manned mission to the moon and the second of the Apollo “J missions.” J missions included more time on the moon and more of the moon itself – these missions included use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle, or LRV for short. After landing Lunar Module Orion in the Descartes Highlands, astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke spent 71 hours on the surface of the moon. The pair traveled 16.6 miles in the LRV across 3 moonwalks, collecting over 200 lbs of lunar regolith samples, including a rock later nicknamed Big Muley, the largest moon rock collected during the Apollo missions.
50 years after Apollo 16’s launch, the rocket designed to return humanity to the surface of the moon has encountered problems in testing. Artemis I is a demonstration mission slated to launch later this year. The mission would fly the unmanned Orion crew capsule around the moon and return it safely to Earth, paving the way for a crewed mission to lunar orbit (Artemis II) and a crewed landing (Artemis III) later this decade. At the start of this month, Artemis I faced its final significant hurdle before launch, and the results were less than spectacular. Designed to test the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and integrated ground systems right up to the moment of launch, the Artemis I Wet Dress Rehearsal has now experienced a third set-back. A liquid hydrogen leak on the Tail Service Mast Unit will lead Artemis I to be rolled back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). The repeated failures of the Wet Dress Rehearsal put the Artemis I launch date in question, previously scheduled for May 2022. A delay in the launch of Artemis 1 will likely have a significant effect on the launch dates for subsequent crewed Artemis missions, currently slated for 2024. NASA will hold an Artemis 1 press conference Monday, April 18 at 3 p.m. EDT to discuss next steps.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has determined the size of the largest icy comet nucleus ever seen by astronomers. The estimated diameter of comet C/2014 UN271 (Bernardinelli-Bernstein) is approximately 80 miles across, making it larger than the state of Rhode Island. The nucleus is about 50 times larger than found at the heart of most known comets. Its mass is estimated to be 500 trillion tons, a hundred thousand times greater than the mass of a typical comet found much closer to the Sun.
Axiom Space’s private mission to the International Space Station, Ax-1, launched from the Kennedy Space Center on April 8th. Currently scheduled for an April 20th return to earth, the mission is the first wholly commercially-operated crewed mission to the ISS, and one of the first dedicated orbital private crew missions. The three commercial seats on the SpaceX Dragon capsule were sold to private astronauts at a cost of $55 million each. Axiom Space, which aims to create the world’s first commercial space station, hopes to fly private missions to the ISS up to two times each year.