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.
The Artemis I mission launches on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on Nov. 16, 2022 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Bill Ingalls / NASA
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.
A look back at Earth from onboard the Orion spacecraft as it heads to the moon.
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule stand in preparation to launch at LC-39B of Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Nov. 13, 2022.
Last week, NASA left SLS and Orion out on the launchpad to weather the winds of Hurricane Nicole.
NASA said it checked the rocket and spacecraft after the storm passed and found no major damage to the vehicle. It said a 10-foot section of insulation near the Orion capsule had pulled away due to the high winds – but NASA decided to proceed with Wednesday’s launch attempt after an analysis showed it was not expected to cause any significant damage if the insulation falls off during the launch.
A host of aerospace contractors support the hardware, infrastructure and software for SLS and Orion – with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Airbus and Jacobs leading the effort.
NASA’s program has enjoyed strong bipartisan political support, but the agency’s Inspector General recently warned that Artemis is not a “sustainable” way to establish a presence on the moon. The internal watchdog found that more than $40 billion has already been spent on Artemis, and projected NASA would spend $93 billion on the effort by the time the first crewed landing happens.