NASA launched its massive Artemis I lunar rocket early Wednesday, bringing the United States one step closer to landing on the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years since the end of the Apollo program.
NASA teams began fueling the 322-foot Space Launch System rocket with liquid hydrogen and oxygen at 3:50 p.m. ET — just over nine hours before liftoff. The launch of Artemis I was scheduled to begin at 1:04 a.m. ET Wednesday, giving NASA two hours to send the rocket into orbit, but technical difficulties delayed the launch time.
After no restrictions were reported and all elements were polled as “go,” the new moon rocket launched at 1:47 a.m. ET.
“For the Artemis generation, this is for you,” launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said shortly before launch, referring to young people who didn’t live before Apollo.
The weather for Wednesday’s attempt is 90 percent “favorable,” according to NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems. The launch has been scrubbed and delayed four times this year — twice due to technical issues, once for a hurricane and once for a tropical storm.
“So far everything is going very smoothly,” said assistant launch director Jeremy Graeber, about an hour after refueling.
But around 9:30 p.m. ET, NASA reported an intermittent hydrogen leak in the rocket’s core stage. About half an hour later, Blackwell-Thompson gave a “go” for the specialized “red team” to open the launchpad to solve the problem.
As the red team completed hydrogen repairs at 11 p.m. ET, NASA reported a technical problem with a radar. NASA’s Range Safety Operations was able to replace an Ethernet switch, a type of networking hardware, at 12:30 a.m. ET. Teams are moving forward, but there is testing to be done.
The launch of Artemis I will send a new, empty capsule around the moon for the first time in 50 years. This first test flight is expected to last four to six weeks and will end with a splash in the Pacific Ocean.
The $4.1 billion mission will allow NASA to verify the capsule’s heat shield during reentry. If successful, four astronauts could strap on for the next moonshot in 2024, which will be followed a year or two later by a moon landing of two astronauts.
About 15,000 people are expected to crowd the Kennedy Space Center and thousands more line the beaches and roads outside the gates to watch the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket.
50 YEARS LATER: The US takes its first step back to the moon with the launch of Artemis I
What is Artemis I?
Artemis I is the first part of the Artemis mission, which aims to orbit the moon. The mission debuts with the Space Launch System rocket, also known as SLS.
The SLS will produce a maximum of 8.8 million pounds of thrust when it lifts off for its maiden flight, “with more power than any rocket ever made,” according to NASA.
The SLS rocket will travel 450,000 miles from Earth, according to NASA, and fly farther than any other craft built for humans.
The unmanned Orion spacecraft, which is a larger and more complex successor to the Apollo craft, is stacked on top of the SLS rocket. After launch, the Orion capsule will complete a 1.3 million-mile journey to lunar orbit and back for about a month.
A successful return to Earth will let NASA determine whether astronauts can be placed in the capsule for a similar mission, known as Artemis II, in 2024. Then Artemis III would place two astronauts on the lunar surface a year or two later.
What are the Artemis missions?
The Artemis missions will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon, says NASA.
The goal of the missions is to explore the lunar surface more than ever before and establish the first long-term presence on the moon, NASA said. Scientific discoveries on and around the moon will be used to prepare missions to Mars – in hopes of sending the first astronauts to the Red Planet.
The goal is to test the ship’s propulsion and navigation systems and Orion’s life support systems, NASA said. On board the unmanned spacecraft will be three mannequins.
NASA will place a mannequin in the commander’s seat and the other two in adjacent seats to monitor radiation levels.
The last time NASA sent astronauts to the moon was in December 1972, during the Apollo 17 mission, which concluded the Apollo program.
The Apollo 17 mission was much shorter compared to the estimated duration of the Artemis mission. From launch to landing, the Apollo 17 mission lasted 12 days, 13 hours, and 52 minutes.
Artemis I is expected to last 26 to 42 days.
Contributors: Jennifer Borresen and George Petras, USA TODAY; The The Bharat Express News