After two failed attempts, NASA has successfully launched the Space Launch System, a Moon-bound megarocket that will travel beyond the far side of the Moon and back – further than any other habitable spacecraft so far.
The Artemis 1 mission is the first step in NASA’s plan to return to the Moon after 50 years and eventually travel to Mars in the 2030s.
The rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 06:48 UTC on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.
NASA announced at 0657 UTC that the SLS rocket had reached the main engine cutoff point in the mission timeline. The RS-25 engines shut down, and the core stage separated.
The solar arrays will be deployed next, allowing the rocket to be powered by the Sun.
The unmanned test flight will travel 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) beyond the Moon’s far side.
The mission will last 25 days, 11 hours, and 36 minutes. The Space Launch System (SLS) will return to Earth on December 11, 2022, after traveling a total distance of 2.09 million kilometers (1.3 million miles).
This is the first of a series of increasingly complex missions aimed at returning humans to the Moon for the first time since December 1972.
The new SLS rocket being used is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever launched, and it will not only travel to the Moon – further than any human-built spacecraft has ever flown – but will also deploy some small satellites.
Mannequins, artifacts, mementos, and zero-gravity indicators will be on board the Orion Crew Capsule.
The goal is to practice spacecraft operation and crew conditions to ensure that the spacecraft is safe for future crew.
NASA plans to launch Artemis 2, the first crewed Artemis mission, into space in 2024 using an upgraded version of the Space Launch System rocket (assuming the spacesuits are ready).
Artemis 3 is scheduled to launch in 2025, with the goal of landing the first woman and first person of color near the Moon’s south pole.
In 2027, the Artemis 4 mission will take astronauts to a mini-lunar station called Gateway.