It was just eleven years ago we covered America’s last manned NASA space mission here at borg as the 135th and final space shuttle team took Atlantis into space and back again in July 2011.  The end, unexpected for many, was depressing for anyone who grew up excited about space exploration.  But only three years later, in October 2014, we discussed here Nichelle Nichols joining forces with NASA to educate the public about the first step in a planned return of NASA astronauts to space coming that December: Orion.  Check out her message introducing the program below.

Just as promised, in December 2014 after one weather delay the first Orion launch and recovery test was a success (get caught up with the Orion program in our coverage here).  Today nearly eight years later NASA is launching Orion to the Moon from Kennedy Space Center as part of the unmanned Artemis I test mission with the most powerful rocket since the Apollo program’s Saturn V, called simply the “Space Launch System” (yes, couldn’t NASA have created something more interesting to call that great rocket?).

NASA Television’s online coverage of the launch began early this morning as the process of filling the rocket’s giant propellant tanks begins.  Launch time is scheduled for 8:33 a.m. Eastern (local) time today, with September 2 and September 5 as backup delay launch dates.

The Orion capsule is designed for multiple-week trips beyond the orbit of the International Space Station.  If a success–if the Orion has a successful orbit around the Moon beginning next Saturday and returns to Earth to land safely in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on October 10 after its 42-day journey–then four astronauts will be selected as the crew of Artemis II for the first lunar orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.  And if that mission is a success, then Artemis III, expected in 2025, could be the next actual Moon landing, with Mars as a target for future missions.

By treaty Artemis II will carry one astronaut from Canada.  The American crew could include one of 18 selected candidates from 2020, including Nicole A. Mann, who among other accomplishments served on the USS Enterprise and would be the first Native American woman in space if a forthcoming October private SpaceX mission goes as planned.  Other members of the Artemis space program team of astronauts include Joseph Acaba, Kayla Barron, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Victor Glover, Warren Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Christina H. Koch, Kjell Kindgren, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, Jasmin Moghbeli, Kate Rubins, Frank Rubio, Scott Tingle, Jessica Watkins, and Stephanie Wilson.  Many of these astronauts will be familiar to borg readers from our coverage of the Expedition missions to the ISS discussed over the past decade here.

Here is the late Nichelle Nichols ushering in the Orion program in 2014:

Don’t forget to watch NASA Television this morning for live streamed coverage from NASA.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg