NASA is one step closer to realizing its goal of returning humans to the Moon with the launch and maintenance of its strongest rocket. The agency’s tangerine Space Launch System, built over a long time, finally came to life. It lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39B.
It was amazing.
“We are all part of something extraordinary,” Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, launch director, said before she got her tie cut. This lovely NASA tradition marks the first solo flight by a worthy team member. “The first launch for Artemis. This is the first step towards returning our country to  Mars.
NASA mission control engineers and scientists giddy embraced the giant SLS rocket with the Orion crew capsule at its crown as it passed critical checkpoints, discarded the core stage within minutes of the flight, and sent its white spire on an epic cosmic journey. Then, as the multibillion-dollar rocket pierced the atmosphere, you could feel the team’s relief.
Blackwell-Thompson told the mission control room, “I want to see around at this team. You have earned it.” You have earned your place in this room, made this moment, and earned a spot on the history page.
We are going.
— NASA (@NASA) November 16, 2022
After years and many setbacks, doubts about viability, delays, setbacks, doubts, and rising costs, the historic launch of Artemis I is finally complete. It could be the foundation for future astronauts to step into the sticky, gray lunar soil and possibly the red sands on Mars. However, we still have a lot of work to do before science-fiction destinations are within our grasp.
It took a lot of work to arrive at this moment. It was pretty turbulent, to put it mildly.
NASA had hoped that Artemis I would kickstart its ambitious new moon program on August 29. However, the initial attempt was thwarted by a leak in the line that supplies liquid hydrogen to the rocket’s giant booster. A second attempt to launch Artemis I was canceled on September 3 due to engine problems. Just as the craft was about to take off, Hurricane Ian arrived and disrupted the excitement. (Hurricane Nicole also made a tiny blip on the timeline. However, that is all history.
Just after 1:45 AM, Artemis I’s lunar journey ended. Artemis I began its lunar journey at 1:45 AM ET Wednesday (11:45 PM PT Tuesday). The spectacular high-definition stream of the liftoff was a far cry from the grainy footage from Saturn V rockets, which crackled through old CRT TVs in the late 1960s. This was NASA’s first dance with Earth.
The SLS soared through the sky with smoke and fire from its rocket engines. It tossed its boosters and reached 17,430 miles an hour before the main engine cutoff.
However, such a departure from Earth is just the beginning of Artemis I’s month-long sojourn-slash-test-flight. After that, a pearly white Orion capsule, which has traveled 1.3 million miles and returned to Earth faster than any spacecraft it could have hoped for, will be crowned. After that, the spacecraft must complete various orbital adjustments and trajectory burns, which will be done during the entire cosmic journey. Their execution will determine Artemis I’s fate.
This will also impact future NASA extraterrestrial travel programs.
The Artemis team will watch the Orion spacecraft make its way toward the Moon, and the Artemis team will observe to see if they can get a first accurate view of the carefully constructed systems.
— NASA (@NASA) November 16, 2022
Artemis’ extraordinary mission was intended to last for up to 42 days. But Orion’s primary goal in the short term is to reach the Moon.
If everything goes according to plan, the spacecraft will enter the Moon’s gravitational fields around November 21. It will then pass closely at the Moon’s surface shortly after that, approximately 60 miles away. This should produce some stunning footage, perhaps a re-creation of Apollo 8’s Earthrise.
Cool photos in hand, Orion will be in a vital orbit around it by November 28, one that will allow it to surpass the distance that Apollo 13’s crew traveled — the furthest distance humans have ever traveled away from their home planet.
What a sight to behold! 🚀
— Lockheed Martin Space (@LMSpace) November 16, 2022
Although Apollo 13 will not break the record with just dummies aboard Orion, it is expected that the capsule will still reach an incredible maximum distance of approximately 280,000 miles from Earth. It will also drop small satellites, called CubeSats, from manufacturers, universities, and space agencies around the globe.
Others will search for water or imagine the Moon. Others will measure magnetic fields and particles, test propulsion systems or test the effects space radiation has on yeast. The NEA Scout will also travel by solar sail to capture images of 2020 GE, a near-Earth asteroid. However, this target is still under review.
A trio of mannequins is also equipped with sensors that can help predict the stress an astronaut might experience while traveling off Earth. This will allow humanity to one day tackle deep (deep space) adventures. “Commander Moonikin Campos” was the commander during record acceleration and vibration takeoff. Helga, Zohar, and other radiation sensors are torsos that measure how much radiation might be emitted from space.
It is a modified version onboard Amazon’s Alexa, which aims to decode how this type of commercial technology might assist astronauts in space. But unfortunately, although HAL 9000 is a valid reference, Alexa doesn’t have any information about that fictitious, malicious artificial intelligence (yet).
The Orion capsule’s return home to Earth is the most critical test.
The crew of humans will be contained within Orion on Artemis II. A heat shield, which is also on Artemis I’s Orion, will protect them from the harsh atmosphere as they travel at a staggering 25,000 miles an hour. The shield must withstand temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It was last tested in a 2014 flight test. A second test, in 2019, evaluated the flight abort systems.
We’ll be able to see the capsule in action with Artemis I and an Orion craft that is working, however. The tablet is currently expected to splash down on December 11.
NASA will also be testing a “skip-entry” technique in which the spacecraft uses atmospheric pressure to slow down and pinpoint landings in the Pacific Ocean.
It has been 53 years since NASA’s Saturn V rocket was launched from 39B, carrying astronauts on a mission to the Moon. The Apollo 10 mission was the catalyst for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and their landing on the Moon in the Apollo 11 mission a few months later. (With Michael Collins still waiting in orbit in a command module in July 1969).
Artemis I is a similar role. It is the precursor to Artemis II, a crewed mission to orbit the Moon, and Artemis III, which will return humans to the surface. In addition, Artemis I was designed to be the SLS’s only uncrewed test flight. This puts a lot of pressure on the SLS to perform well.
Artemis II will be the follow-up mission and include three astronauts from NASA and one Canadian Space Agency, astronaut. Artemis I and the following weeks will determine the fate of this mission. It is currently scheduled to launch in May 2024.
Artemis III will follow, which is the “Apollo 11” of the Artemis program. Artemis III will attempt to land humans on the Moon for the first time in over 50 years, sometime in 2025. In addition, it will be the first time a female astronaut has left a footprint on lunar soil.