- 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.
- 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.
- So far the mission is going as planned, with Orion first reaching orbit around the Earth and then firing its engines to begin the multi-day trip to the moon.
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.
NASA first tried to launch Artemis I in August but called off multiple attempts after discovering technical problems with the rocket's engines.
In September the agency rolled the rocket back into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for protection from Hurricane Ian, returning the vehicle to the LC-39B launchpad on Nov. 3.
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.