The Orion spacecraft on Artemis 1 carries a security device

All eyes will be on Cape Canaveral, Florida, as NASA’s latest lunar project, Artemis 1, prepares to launch.

This is the first of three phases in NASA’s long-awaited attempt to return to the Moon. The mission aims to establish a long-term human base on the Earth satellite by the end of the decade.

Initially, it is a series of tests, or proofs of concept, that will extend science and human effort.

Artemis 1 is uncrewed and will test, among other things, the Orion spacecraft and the “Space Launch System” rocket. This means that some safety measures to protect future crewed launches are in place in Artemis 1.

It is an unfortunate fact that rockets sometimes fail either during launch or soon after. I mean it’s literally wizard, so there’s a lot of complexities and things that can and do go wrong.

So what did the engineers put in place to protect the crew?

NASA has implemented the Launch Abort System (LAS). The LAS is designed to protect astronauts in the event of a failed launch by moving the crew module away from the rocket.

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The LAS itself weighs over 7,000 kilograms and, according to NASA, “it can activate in milliseconds to bring the vehicle to safety and position the module for a safe landing.”

It contains three solid propellant rocket motors manufactured by Northrop Grumman. The engines are the abort engine, an attitude control engine and a jettison engine.

The abandon the engine can produce nearly two million newtons of thrust force to quickly move the crew pod away from danger from a failed launch or ascent. According to NASA, this push can lift 26 elephants off the ground.

The attitude control engine would be used to steer the crew pod in any direction from inside the vehicle.

And the jettison motor will move the LAS away from the crew module, allowing Orion’s parachutes to deploy so the craft can land safely in the ocean. NASA says it can lift the LAS away from the crew module to a height of about 100 kilometers.

The dropout engine is capable of reaching 800 kilometers per hour in two seconds! But doesn’t that make this safety device dangerous? Such acceleration would produce a G-force (the force felt by an object due to its locomotion) of more than 11g.

A normal human body can withstand G-forces up to 9g. But astronauts are built (well, trained) differently. With conditioning, they can support 10-15g. During re-entry in 1963, astronauts aboard the Project Mercury capsule felt 11 g.

Forecasts call for a 70-80% chance of good weather for the launch of Artemis 1 tonight.

Hopefully it stays that way and there’s no need to use the launch abort system this time or in the future.

You can watch the launch livestream on NASA’s YouTube channel.

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