It’s been 50 years since humans last walked on the moon, but the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working to change that. Scientists hope to set foot on the moon again by 2025, as part of a series of launches known as the Artemis program.
Artemis 1 was first scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on August 29, but a problem with one of the engines kept the spacecraft grounded. Then, a fuel leak scrapped another launch attempt September 3. Later in the month, Hurricane Ian caused yet another delay.
Scientists will try to get Artemis 1 off the ground very early Wednesday, one of the few times this month when the Earth, moon and sun are all in favorable positions for the mission. But don’t be surprised if that launch also gets postponed.
“This is a massively complex vehicle,” says Carrie Olsen, lead project manager for Next Gen STEM at NASA. “It’s the largest rocket we’ve ever built. And it has so many parts! Literally, millions of parts, and they all have to work.”
There are a lot of reasons launches get delayed, Olsen says. They can include lightning, computer glitches and many more. This is why thousands of experts at NASA test everything they can think of long before the rocket gets out onto the launchpad for what she calls a “dress rehearsal.”
On the day of a launch, NASA scientists send balloons up into the atmosphere to take wind measurements to make sure weather won’t be a problem. They then feed those measurements into the spacecraft’s computer just before launch so that it can make adjustments in its flight path and give them the best chance for success.
Getting a rocket off the ground is a huge amount of work, but scientists such as Olsen have been dreaming about going to the moon since they were kids.
“I was 5 when my parents gathered us to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon,” she remembers of the history-making Apollo Missions from the 1960s. “So it feels very full circle that we’re now talking about Artemis, who was the twin sister of Apollo [in Greek mythology].”
Olsen says launch delays are a good reminder that to succeed in life, you have to work hard, take risks and never give up.
“First of all, what we’re trying to do is super hard. And I guess the safest thing to do would be just not to go,” Olsen says. “But that’s sort of like saying you’re never going to try to make the basketball team, because if you don’t try, then you won’t fail. But your life is going to be very boring, and you’re not going to accomplish much, right?”
“To do great things, you have to be willing to fail,” Olsen says. “And then you try again, and try again, and try again.”
And then one day, you get to go to the moon.
An earlier version of this story referred to Carrie Olsen as a payload operations director at NASA. Olsen was a payload operations director, but she is now NASA's lead project manager for Next Gen STEM. This story has been updated.