HOUSTON — For the first time in 50 years, NASA is heading back to the moon. The un-crewed Artemis I mission is scheduled to launch on Monday, Aug. 29, beginning a 42-day journey around the moon.
"There's a great buzz around here at the Johnson Space Center," said Sean Fuller, NASA's Gateway Program manager for international partners.
That buzz surrounds the Orion rocket, now staged at the Kennedy Space Center, which is scheduled to launch Monday. When it does, mission control in Houston will manage the 42-day Artemis I mission.
"We've done a lot of testing on the ground ahead of time. You test all the systems but as an integrated vehicle," Fuller explained. "This is the first time to fly it."
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NASA will fly Orion roughly 40,000 miles to the far side of the moon and back, farther than any space vehicle has ever carried humans. Still, the moon is just a stepping stone toward the final destination.
"The Moon is about 240,000 miles away, but it's significantly closer to Mars," Fuller said.
For that reason, the moon will be able to serve as a kind of base camp.
"We're really expanding the frontier of human exploration out to the moon, then doing that scouting mission out to Mars too in the future," Fuller said.
Fuller hopes Artemis – like Apollo did – will ignite a curiosity about space.
"As a human species, we've always been exploring what's over the next hill, what's over the next mountain, what's west of the Mississippi River," Fuller said. "All that exploration, we're just doing that now off of the Earth."
Watch digital anchor Brandi Smith's full interview with Sean Fuller in the video below.