NASA to practice moonwalks, conduct rover tests in Arizona for future Artemis missions

As NASA eyes November as the next opportunity to launch its Artemis I mission to the moon from Kennedy Space Center in Florida – the first in a series of missions – NASA said it would conduct analog missions – simulated missions -- in Arizona to practice moonwalks, and to test the capabilities of its rovers.

In a statement, NASA said it would conduct two, multi-week tests in October near Flagstaff, Arizona, which is about two hours north of Phoenix.

"The Arizona desert possesses many characteristics that are analogous to a lunar environment including challenging terrain, interesting geology, and minimal communications infrastructure, all of which astronauts will experience near the lunar South Pole during Artemis missions," NASA said in a news release.

The JETT3 Mission – Joint Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Program Test Team – will consist of four simulated moonwalks and will allow NASA to understand the lightning requirements at them moon's South Pole region.

That mission is scheduled Oct. 4-9, 2022 near S P Crater, north of Flagstaff. 

The second mission – D-RATS, Desert Research and Technology Studies – will consist of three missions between Oct. 11-22, 2022, at Black Point Lava Flow, also near S P Crater. The mission will test a rover's "design, cabin configuration, driving modes, timeline constraints, and mission operations to support potential design concepts for future pressurized rovers," NASA said.

The rovers will eventually house astronauts, and allow them to live and work inside, while also exciting to collect samples.

NASA has twice attempted to launch Artemis I – it's first uncrewed test mission to the moon – but had to scrub both due to hydrogen leaks and other issues. Then Hurricane Ian forced NASA to move the rocket off the launch pad – an hours-long process – and back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Now, NASA said it is aiming to launch Artemis in mid-November, a launch window that opens Nov. 12 and closes on Nov. 27.

"Focusing efforts on the November launch period allows time for employees at Kennedy to address the needs of their families and homes after the storm and for teams to identify additional checkouts needed before returning to the pad for launch," the space agency said in a statement