NASA's SLS rocket rolls back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 2, 2022. The booster and the Orion spacecraft were to undergo final preparations for its maiden launch. File Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 3 (UPI) -- Sounding like an excited new parent, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson declared during a press briefing Wednesday that the agency's Artemis mission is ready to take its first physical steps to return to the moon and sometime later head to Mars.
Laying out an effort that will include international and commercial partners, Nelson said Artemis I will take off for months-long orbiting around the moon to test its hardware and systems in the final preparation for a manned flight.
Nelson, though, was clear that returning to the moon is just a stepping stone to a future trip to Mars, where humans will work and prepare for NASA's bigger human exploration prize down the road.
"We're going to Mars and we're going back to the moon, in order to work, to live and to survive," Nelson said. "[We're going to] learn how to use the resources on the moon in order to be able to build things in the future."
He said Artemis I and II will prepare NASA "not a three-day journey, but millions and millions of miles away on a months and months, if not years, journey. And we're going together. We're going with our commercial partners and we're going with our international partners."
The earliest launch date for the unmanned Artemis I mission will be Aug. 29 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
During the mission, an unmanned Orion capsule, like one that ultimately would take astronauts to the moon and back, will circle the moon in an oblong orbit coming as close as 62 miles and as far as 30,000 miles in a full test of all of its capabilities before returning to Earth and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
"We've got a lot of testing to do," Nelson said. "This is now the Artemis generation. We were in the Apollo generation. This is a new generation. This is a new type of astronaut. To all of us to gaze up at the moon, dreaming of the day humankind returns to the lunar surface, folks we're here."
Mike Sarafin, the Artemis I mission manager, said everything will be scrutinized from the rocket's trip to the launching pad to the separation of stages to splashdown.
"Everything has to be working perfectly," Sarafin said. "We're going to be flying into the deep space, high radiation environment. We will experience what it's like for our astronauts to fly in subsequent missions under those conditions."
Sarafin said he is looking forward to the images Orion will provide, taking selfies with the moon and the Earth in the background during its orbits.
Bhavya Lal, the associate administrator for technology, policy and strategy at NASA, paid a brief tribute to Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols, who died this week, saying she was a huge supporter of NASA, and the agency was one of the reasons she pursued her career in space technology.
The briefing Wednesday was the first of two NASA in holding in regards to the Artemis I lunar mission
The second briefing Friday will dive deeper into the Artemis I mission timeline and spacecraft operations.
Friday's briefing is planned for 11:30 a.m. EDT, and will showcase Artemis I mission hardware, development mockups, design simulators, flight control operations and hardware in development for lunar exploration.
One goal of the Artemis missions is to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon, administrator Nelson has said.
For protection from the effects of Hurricane Ian, NASA's SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building from Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on September 27, 2022. The booster and spacecraft will ride out the storm inside the facility where NASA Engineers will prepare the vehicle for the maiden launch of the Artemis Program sometime from late October to mid November. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo