Artemis I is heading toward the moon, blazing a trail for NASA’s next era of space exploration. NASA’s majestic new rocket soared into space for the first time in the early hours of Wednesday, lighting up the night sky and accelerating on a journey that will take an astronaut-less capsule around the moon and back.
The milestone launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) marks the beginning of a new era of space exploration and paves the way for NASA to eventually send humans back to the moon, and on to Mars.
The massive rocket, which stands taller than the Statue of Liberty at 322 feet (98 meters), is the most powerful booster ever built. It is designed to propel massive payloads — including NASA’s Orion spacecraft — far beyond low-Earth orbit.
The SLS blasted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:30 a.m. EDT (0430 GMT), riding atop a column of bright orange flames and thunderous noise. Cheers erupted in the control room as the rocket smoothly climbed away from its launch pad.
“Liftoff of NASA’s most powerful rocket in history, on a mission that could ultimately take humans back to the moon and on to Mars,” said NASA commentator George Diller.
The uncrewed Artemis I mission is the first test flight of the SLS and Orion capsule together. The SLS will hurl Orion 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) from Earth on a three-week journey that will take the capsule three times closer to the sun than we are today. Orion will then swing around the far side of the moon and coast back home, giving NASA engineers critical data about the performance of the rocket and spacecraft before humans ride atop the SLS on future missions.
“This is an incredibly exciting time for NASA and our partners as we embark on this new era of space exploration,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “With the launch of Artemis I, we are well on our way to landing the first woman and next man on the moon in just a few short years, and to eventually sending humans to Mars.”
The SLS is the most powerful rocket in operation today, capable of lofting more than twice the payload of the retired Space Shuttle orbiters. The rocket’s core stage, which is powered by four RS-25 engines, produces 8.8 million pounds of thrust. That’s enough to lift a fully loaded Orion capsule and its attached stage, plus more than 44,000 pounds (20,000 kilograms) of payload to orbit.
The first stage of the SLS is powered by two modified solid rocket boosters, which are the same type of boosters that lifted NASA’s Space Shuttles into space. The SLS’s boosters produce a combined total of 5.5 million pounds of thrust.
The Artemis I mission is the first test of the SLS’s integrated system. The rocket will launch the Orion capsule on a three-week journey that will take the spacecraft farther from the sun than any vehicle has ever gone before.
Orion will swing around the far side of the moon and then coast back to Earth, giving NASA engineers critical data about the performance of the rocket and spacecraft. The data will be used to ensure the safety of future missions, which will carry astronauts to the moon and eventually to Mars.
The launch of Artemis I marks the beginning of a new era of space exploration and paves the way for NASA to eventually send humans back to the moon, and on to Mars. The SLS is the most powerful rocket ever built, and is designed to propel massive payloads — including NASA’s Orion spacecraft — far beyond low-Earth orbit.