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The historic Artemis I mission took off early Wednesday morning after months of anticipation. This milestone event kicked off the journey to send an unmanned spacecraft around the moon, paving the way for NASA to return astronauts to the moon’s surface for the first time in half a century.
Towering 322 feet (98 meters) high, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket ignited its engines at 1:47 a.m. Eastern time. Producing up to 9 million pounds (4.1 million kilograms) of thrust, it took off from its launch pad in Florida and flew brilliantly across the night sky.
At the top of the rocket is the Orion spacecraft, a gumdrop-shaped capsule that separates from the rocket. after reaching space. Orion is designed to carry humans, but the passengers on this test mission are inanimate objects and include several mannequins that gather vital data to help future crew members.
The SLS rocket consumed millions of pounds of fuel before parts of the rocket began to break down. Orion is now in orbit with just her one large engine.That engine, in the next few hours he will produce two powerful combustions To put the spacecraft in the correct orbit towards the moon. Then, about two hours after launch, the rocket engines also dropped, leaving Orion free-fly for the remainder of its journey.
According to NASA, Orion is expected to fly about 1.3 million miles (2 million kilometers), farther than any other spacecraft designed for manned flight. After Orion orbits the Moon, it will make its return trip in about 25.5 days. After that, the capsule is scheduled to land in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on December 11, waiting nearby for recovery teams to bring the capsule to safety.
During the mission, NASA engineers closely monitor the spacecraft’s performance. The team will evaluate whether Orion will work as intended and will be ready to support the first manned mission to lunar orbit, currently scheduled for 2024.
The mission is also the debut flight of the most powerful SLS rocket ever to reach Earth orbit, with 15% more thrust than the Saturn V rocket that powered NASA’s 20th-century moon landings.
And the mission is just the first in a long series of Artemis missions that are expected to become increasingly difficult 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 have astronauts on board. Artemis III, scheduled for later this decade, is expected to land the first women and people of color on the moon.
Read more: Big numbers that make the Artemis I mission a monumental feat
The mission team ran into a number of obstacles heading into Wednesday morning’s launch, including technical problems with the Mega Moon rocket and two hurricanes that passed through the launch site.
Fueling the SLS rocket with supercooled liquid hydrogen proved to be one of the main problems that forced NASA to abort an earlier takeoff attempt.
Artemis launch director Charlie Blackwell Thompson said: