To the moon, again!
NASA launched the Artemis I mission from Florida at 1:47 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning, with the agency’s most powerful rocket ever kicking off a nearly month-long journey with a ground-shaking liftoff.
While no astronauts are onboard, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carried the Orion capsule to space in a demonstration for NASA’s lunar program. Artemis I will not land on the moon, but the spacecraft will orbit nearby before returning to Earth in 26 days.
In the final hours of the countdown, a hydrogen leak in a valve threatened to delay the launch. With SLS nearly fully fueled, a small group known as the “red team” was sent out to the launchpad and into the “blast danger area” to try to fix the problem. The team was able to tighten hardware on the leaky valve and returned to safety, with NASA’s launch then able to proceed.
So far the mission is going as planned, with Orion reaching orbit around the Earth at about 2 a.m. ET and firing its engines about two hours after launch to begin the multi-day trip to the moon.
The next major milestone is set for Nov. 21, when Orion will make its closest approach to the moon of 60 miles above the surface. To return, Orion will use the moon’s gravity to assist it in setting a trajectory back into Earth’s orbit. Artemis I will travel about 1.3 million miles over the course of the mission.
The mission represents a crucial inflection point in NASA’s moon plans, with the program delayed for years and running billions of dollars over budget. The Artemis program represents a series of missions with escalating goals. The third – tentatively scheduled for 2025 – is expected to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the Apollo era.