Liftoff: NASA’s Artemis I Launches Into Space, History

The Artemis I mission to the moon launches a new chapter in human lunar exploration.

After months of delay, NASA’s Artemis I mission finally got off the ground—and it was a beautiful sight.

Precisely at 1:47 a.m., the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket engines ignited and powered the 322-foot vehicle off Launch Pad 39B. No issues were encountered despite some pre-launch concerns regarding a fueling leak that temporarily put the launch on hold. Crews remedied the issue and the countdown resumed as planned. Unlike previous launch attempts in recent months, weather conditions remained clear.

Hurricane Nicole, which brought a powerful storm surge and high winds to Florida last week, did not cause significant damage to the vehicle, according to NASA teams. A piece of caulking near the Orion crew capsule did peel off during the storm, The Associated Press reported. During a press briefing Monday afternoon, NASA officials reiterated that this 10-foot section near a seam on the spacecraft was not something that necessitated a delay or a scrubbed launch.

During launch preparations, the NASA team discussed the replacement of a component tied to an electrical connector on the hydrogen tail service mast umbilical ground-side plate. Engineers opted to swap the piece after noticing inconsistent data reported via that connector— even after replacing a cable earlier in the week. When asked if this issue could affect the launch, managers expressed confidence that it would not, because the rocket has several redundant data sources to convey this information.

Orion’s Lunar Itinerary

During the 25-day mission now underway, Orion will travel 1.3 million miles to (and around) the moon before returning home on December 11. Penetrating the Earth’s atmosphere at 24,500 mph, or Mach 32, the planned reentry will heat the spacecraft to temperatures never-before endured by human-rated spacecraft. 

The unmanned ship will splash down off the coast of Baja, California. While no humans are onboard, two high-tech mannequins will have the distinction of being the first passengers for this lunar ride.   

Orion’s trip to the moon is powered by its Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage, or ICPS. Once there, the spacecraft has a lot on its lunar “to-do” list. During its moon orbit phase, the craft will fly 62 miles above the surface for six days before heading back to Earth.

Artemis I is an uncrewed mission around the moon and back to Earth. [Courtesy: NASA]

This launch comprises just part of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the moon by 2025. Establishing a long-term presence on the moon is a stepping stone to eventually sending astronauts to Mars. For now, NASA is enjoying a well-deserved pat on the back. 

“What an incredible sight to see NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch together for the first time,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “This uncrewed flight test will push Orion to the limits in the rigors of deep space, helping us prepare for human exploration on the moon and, ultimately, Mars.”


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