Artemis I: UK primed to launch first British astronaut on the Moon

Brian Cox outlines goals of NASA's Artemis 1 mission launch

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NASA has announced that it aims to launch the Artemis I mission to Moon tomorrow. This came after the earlier Monday launch was scrapped due to engine bleed problems reported earlier with their Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Now, the US space agency will once again try to launch the rocket during the two-hour window that opens at 7:17 PM BST, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

While this mission will be unmanned, it will lead up to Artemis III in 2025, where humanity will once again step foot on the Moon, for the first time in over 50 years.

So far the astronauts expected to visit the lunar surface have not been named, though according to Libby Jackson, the UK’s Space Agency Science Manager, Britain’s pivotal role in the Artemis programme could result in a Briton setting foot on the Moon for the first time.

When asked whether the Artemis Programme could have British astronauts, she told “Yes. The Artemis Program is an international endeavour. The European Space Agency is playing a key partner, not a supporting role. The ESA service module is not an optional extra, it has to be there.”

The UK is a key partner is the Artemis programme, as part of its membership with the ESA.

While Britain has not played a major role in building components for the current launch, the UK will help build key aspects of future Artemis missions, including making important contributions to the Lunar Gateway.

The Lunar Gateway is a planned space station which will orbit the moon and serve, as NASA puts it, as a “gateway to deep space and the lunar surface.”

Ms Jackson added: “We are looking forward to the council of ministers meeting at the end of November this year.

“Every three years, all of the ESA member states get together and decide what their investment priorities would be, and this is the meeting at which member states will decide who they want to invest in the Artemis program such that we could see a European walking on the Moon.

“Watch this space, it’s being discussed right now what the ambitions of ESA and its member states, of which UK is a part of.

“If those decisions are made, then ESA will commit to being a part of Artemis in a way that will enable that.

“The UK is a member of the ESA, we’re looking forward to the European astronaut selection that is coming to an end.

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“Who the astronauts that might go to the moon will be is a long way to tell, but certainly, the UK is a proud member of the ESA and watch this space for the meeting.”

To date, Major Tim Peake is the only British astronaut to have visited the International Space Station, having spent 186 days on the orbiting lab and completed a spacewalk back in 2015/16.

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