(CNN) – the mission Artemis I The flight took off in the early hours of Wednesday, after months of anticipation. The historic event kicked off a journey that will send an uncrewed spacecraft around the Moon, paving the way for NASA to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time in half a century.
The 322-foot (98-meter) tall Space Launch System rocket ignited its engines at 1:47 a.m. Miami time. It released up to 9 million pounds (4.1 million kilograms) of thrust to lift off from the launch pad in Florida and levitate into the air, twinkling vibrantly in the night sky.
On top of the rocket is the Orion spacecraft, a candy-shaped capsule that detaches after reaching space. Orion was designed to carry humans, but its passengers on this test mission consist of an inanimate group, including some dummies that collect vital data to help future live crews.
Within a few minutes, as the SLS expends millions of pounds of fuel, parts of the rocket will begin to fall apart until Orion is left with one big engine. This engine will produce two powerful burns over the next hour and a half to put the spacecraft on track to the moon. Then, about two hours after liftoff, the rocket’s engine will drop as well, allowing Orion to fly freely for the rest of its flight.
Orion is expected to travel nearly 1.3 billion miles (2 million km), taking a farther trajectory than any other spacecraft designed for human flight, according to NASA. After orbiting the Moon, Orion will make its return trip, completing its journey in about 25.5 days. The capsule is then scheduled to launch into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on December 11, when recovery teams will be waiting nearby to ferry it to safety.
Throughout the mission, NASA engineers will closely monitor the spacecraft’s performance. The team will assess whether Orion is performing as planned and whether it will be ready to support its first manned mission to lunar orbit, which is currently scheduled for 2024.
This mission also marks the first flight of the SLS rocket as the most powerful rocket ever to reach Earth orbit, with 15% more thrust than the Saturn V that propelled the moon landings for NASA in the 20th century.
And this is just the first time in what is expected to be a long line of increasingly challenging Artemis missions as NASA works toward its goal of establishing a permanent outpost on the Moon. Artemis II will follow a similar path to Artemis I but will carry two astronauts on board. Artemis III, due later this decade, is expected to bring a woman and a person of color to the surface of the moon for the first time.
The mission team encountered a number of obstacles in the run-up to Wednesday’s launch, including technical issues with the giant lunar rocket and two tornadoes passing through the launch site.
Feeding supercooled liquid hydrogen to the SLS rocket proved to be such a problem that forced NASA to cancel previous takeoff attempts, but on Tuesday, the tanks filled despite leaking problems that shut off the fuel supply hours before launch.
said Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis launch manager.
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