At the end of this month, NASA is going to launch its new mega-rocket, which will be used to shoot a spaceship for astronauts around the moon.

In a bid to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, NASA has spent 17 years and an estimated $50 billion developing the Space Launch System.

At 23 stories, the Statue of Liberty is taller than the SLS rocket. The four car-sized engines and two rocket boosters will give it enough thrust to propel it all the way around the moon. The first SLS mission is called Artemis I.

As soon as August 29th, the SLS rocket will deliver the spaceship to circle the moon and come back to Earth. The rocket has never flown before and no one is on it. If the spaceship successfully completes its mission, NASA will put astronauts in the Orion module for another trip around the moon, then land them on its surface using SpaceX's Starship in 2025.

illustration shows spaceship with solar panel wings flying past the far side of the moon with earth in the distance
An illustration of the Orion spacecraft circling the moon.

NASA wants to establish a permanent base on the moon's surface in order to set up a space station. NASA wants to send astronauts to Mars eventually.

The SLS has to fly in order for those ambitions to come true. It will be the first test of its full capabilites.

illustration show orange space launch system rocket lifting off
An illustration of the Space Launch System lifting off from the launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If the weather is clear and there are no last-minute technical issues, the SLS rocket should launch at 8:33 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On August 29th

After roaring through the thickest parts of the atmosphere, the rocket's booster should fall away and let the spaceship reach the moon.

A total distance of over one million miles can be achieved if everything goes smoothly. It will be able to sling it 40,000 miles past the moon thanks to lunar gravity. It's further into deep space than any of the spaceships that have been made for humans.

When it loops back around, it will skim close to the moon to get a push back towards Earth.

Artemis 1 mission map.
Artemis I mission map.

The amount of radiation that future astronauts will be exposed to during the test flight will be assessed by scientists. Several minitiature satellites will be launched with the mission.

NASA's main goal with Artemis I is to test every function of the launch and spaceflight system, including the communication and navigation systems and the heat shield, which must survive a fiery plummet through Earth's atmosphere.

three red and white striped parachutes above a spaceship landing in the ocean
The Orion spaceship parachutes to a splash down during a test, on December 5, 2014.

On October 10, the spaceship will push itself toward Earth, plow through the atmosphere, and release parachutes to land on the coast of San Diego.

The next SLS mission will carry astronauts on the same roundabout if the uncrewed spaceship makes it around the moon.

Bill Nelson, NASA's administrator, said at a press conference on August 3 that the Artemis generation is now underway. This is a new generation of astronauts and we were in the Apollo generation. We're here, folks, we're gazing up at the moon, dreaming of the day we'll return to the moon. The journey starts with Artemis I.

orion spacecraft sls artemis 1 moon mission
An artist's illustration shows the Orion spacecraft rocketing to the moon on the Artemis I mission.

Artemis II will carry a four person crew on a 10-day mission. There is a flight that is scheduled to take place in the late 20th century.

A woman and a person of color will walk on the moon if Artemis III is successful.

Nelson said that NASA would land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon.

NASA wants to establish a base on the lunar surface and mine resources there to pave the way for a manned mission to Mars.