NASA's Artemis program sets sights on the moon, then Mars

The countdown to NASA's return to the moon is officially in motion, and the launch will be the first of a set of missions putting humans on the night sun's surface.

And ahead of the launch of Artemis I, the US space agency shared a list of things astronauts are bringing on the rocket as it voyages out to Earth's only natural satellite.

The eclectic mix of items being brought on the quest include 245 silver Snoopy pins, a Shaun the Sheep mascot, a Dead Sea pebble, and 567 American flags.

The rocket is the most powerful ever built and is set to take off lift from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 29.

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"Many of the items included in the flight kit are symbols of cultural significance or NASA's collaborative efforts with STEM-focused organisations," the space agency said.

In a report from the Daily Mail, a tiny piece of moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission will also be on the ride, alongside a patch and a bolt from Neil Armstrong's iconic mission, which helps to connect the Apollo legacy to the Artemis program.

Shaun the Sheep's addition was provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), which built the power-providing service module for this space adventure.

“We're woolly very happy that he's been selected for the mission, and we understand that, although it might be a small step for a human, it's a giant leap for lambkind," said David Parker, ESA’s director for human and robotic exploration.

Shaun is not the only pop culture personality launching on board the Artemis 1 crew.

A Snoopy doll derived from the comic strip beagle is flying as the mission's zero-gravity indicator.

Four LEGO mini-figures are also included. LEGO is a long-standing provider of mini-projects based on real NASA missions.

If Artemis I proves to be successful, NASA will send up Artemis II on a trip around the moon as soon as 2024. During that time, people will be onboard.

The Artemis II mission aims to send four astronauts into a lunar flyby for no more than 21 days.

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