It is said that third time’s the charm, and for NASA, that is exactly what happened on Wednesday. The agency’s mission to take humanity to the stars and put them on the moon for the first time in the past 50 years just took a huge leap after its Space Launch System (SLS) successfully achieved lift-off and entered into orbit, initiating its Artemis I mission.
“We are going!” NASA tweeted as the colossal rocket took to the skies with a roar and a spectacular show of light, and eight minutes into the launch, the core stage separated from the rest of the rocket. The uncrewed Orion spacecraft is set to complete an orbit-and-a-half of Earth’s natural satellite and spend 25 and a half days in space, before it returns to the blue planet with a splash in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.
We are going.
For the first time, the @NASA_SLS rocket and @NASA_Orion fly together. #Artemis I begins a new chapter in human lunar exploration. pic.twitter.com/vmC64Qgft9
— NASA (@NASA) November 16, 2022
The launch of the SLS, which heralds the beginning of a new era in humanity’s spacefaring history, wherein it goes back to the moon “and beyond,” took off at 1:47 AM ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This is a long-overdue launch, turning out to be the culmination of the burning of billions of dollars and years of preparation and hard work. Over $40 billion has already been spent on the Artemis I project, and by the time humanity steps foot on the moon once again, the total cost is expected to exceed $93 billion.
Nonetheless, the money will be worth it if the Artemis missions are successful in achieving their goal, and so far, it seems to be to a decent start. The liftoff on Wednesday comes after the first unsuccessful launch of the SLS by NASA in August 2022. It was scrubbed after an engine failed to reach the appropriate temperature to allow for the launch, while the second launch a few days later in September was aborted due to the appearance of a persistent hydrogen leak. While NASA was ready for another launch after fixing the leaks, its schedule was pushed back even further due to Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.
Of course, the launch on Wednesday was not without its issues. Technical glitches made themselves known ahead of the launch as engineers had to pause the flow of liquid hydrogen into the core stage due a valve leak, and a faulty ethernet switch resulted in glitches affecting a radar site that would monitor the rocket’s flight path. However, NASA’s team was on the lookout for such issues, and they were quickly resolved.
NASA now hopes that the Orion spacecraft perform well in its brief stay in space – even as it travels 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, farther than any crewed missions have flown, since its success will be a milestone in its mission to bring humanity to the Moon again. Overall, it will cover a total distance of about 1.3 million miles and come as close as 60 miles above the moon’s surface.
During the #Artemis I flight test, our @NASA_Orion spacecraft will travel to 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, farther than any crewed missions have flown: https://t.co/CL5LXUjDbZ
— NASA (@NASA) November 16, 2022
Kathryn Hambleton, NASA’s Media relations specialist, had described Artemis I as the “first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond.”
The Artemis 1 mission will thus serve as the precursor to the Artemis II mission – in which NASA will send a crew of astronauts around the Moon and back without landing, and is set for 2024. Provided that the Artemis II mission is successful as well, the first crewed Moon landings since 1972 could happen as soon as 2025. And for beyond the Artemis III mission, well, this is where SpaceX comes in.