Following months of delays, NASA’s new Moon rocket sucessfully lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:47 a.m. local time today.
The Space Launch System (SLS), which is now the most powerful rocket ever, launched an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into orbit. NASA announced that following launch the spacecraft is performing as expected as it now begins its journey to the Moon.
Orion is expected to fly-by the Moon on 21 November, performing a close approach of the lunar surface on its way to a distant “retrograde orbit”, a highly stable orbit that will see it travel approximately 64,000 kilometres beyond the Moon. It will then return to Earth where it will splash down in the Pacific Ocean, which is expected some 25 days from now.
The Artemis I mission is seen as a crucial test for NASA before the agency sends astronauts to the Moon on Artemis II, which is expected in 2024. Artemis III, currently ear-marked for launch in 2025, will be the first crewed lunar landing since the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 70s.
“What an incredible sight to see NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch together for the first time,” noted NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “This uncrewed flight test will push Orion to the limits in the rigours of deep space, helping us prepare for human exploration on the Moon and, ultimately, Mars.”