The most powerful NASA rocket ever built roared into the Florida sky early this morning, with its unmanned Orion next-generation spacecraft payload, on its way to the Moon. NASA’s new era of space exploration has begun.

With a mighty roar, the most powerful NASA rocket ever built — the Space Launch System (SLS) — soared into the Florida early morning sky on the Artemis 1 mission, a risky and long-delayed test flight to send a next-generation space capsule to the Moon  and back. Liftoff occurred today (Nov. 16) at 1:47 a.m. EST (0647 GMT) from NASA’s Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. 

Artemis 1 is sending NASA’s new next-generation Orion spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight around the moon. This shakedown mission, NASA’s first flight of a crew-capable moon ship in nearly 50 years, serves as the proving ground to see if SLS and Orion are ready to help return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2025 under NASA’s Artemis program.

NASA successfully launched the Artemis 1 moon mission on the first Space Launch System rocket at 1:47 am EST (0647 GMT). The Artemis mission will send the Orion unmanned capsule on a 280,000 mile (450,000 km) trip from Earth and 40,000 miles (64,000 km) beyond the far side of the Moon, carrying science and technology payloads to expand our understanding of lunar science, technology developments, and deep space radiation.

Through Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone to send astronauts to Mars.

The entire craft includes a crew and service module, a spacecraft adaptor to connect the module to the powerful rockets beneath, and a new launch-abort system.

The long, thin “rocket” structure known as the core stage rises more than 200 feet (61 meters) tall between the boosters, and will carry 730,000 gallons (2.76 million liters) of supercooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to power the engines.  The entire assembled launch vehicle stands more than 322 ft (98 m) tall.

When NASA sends the Orion to the Moon with a live crew, it will carry up to six astronauts compared with Apollo’s three, and a new version of the Apollo heat shield will keep the astronauts safe as the crew module re-enters Earth’s atmosphere when it returns from deep space.

Although the first mission won’t be carrying people, SLS won’t exactly be empty. When the rocket  launches, it will carry more than a dozen cubesats, which are small satellites — not much bigger than a breadbox — capable of collecting data on their own.

The interior of the Orion spacecraft, capable of carrying a crew of up to six astronauts. It’s pretty amazing, really. The ship can literally fly itself, and the Artemis 1 mission will be a full system test of that capability — but while it’s vastly improved over the days of the Apollo capsules, it still kind of looks like the back side of a refrigerator.


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