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NASA makes lunar comeback with successful Artemis 1 mission launch

Chron logo Chron 11/16/2022 Ariana Garcia

Following a string of delays, NASA's Artemis 1 has finally launched its historic mega Moon rocket, bringing the agency a step closer to its goal of putting humans back on the lunar surface after a 50-year hiatus. Early Wednesday morning, Artemis 1 sent off its unmanned Orion capsule atop NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket—NASA's most powerful rocket ever built—from the launchpad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Observers eagerly watched from a nearby park as the megarocket blasted off, lighting up the night sky over Florida's coast. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters at a post-launch press briefing that he watched the launch from a rooftop with a group of astronauts. "I'm telling you, we've never seen such a tail of flame," he said. "There were a bunch there that would like to be on that rocket and I have to say, for what we saw tonight, it's an A+." Artemis 1 Mission Manager Mike Sarafin told reporters that the moon rocket did its job and delivered the Orion spacecraft on a good trajectory toward the moon, noting only a few minor issues he called a "few funnies." 

If all goes to plan during the 25-day test flight, Orion will orbit the moon and return to Earth on Dec. 11, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego. The Artemis 1 mission will serve as the starting point for a series of missions in NASA's new lunar exploration program. The agency plans to follow up with Artemis 2, which will send a crewed Orion capsule on the same mission in 2024. For Artemis 3, which could happen the following year, NASA plans to launch a team of astronauts, including the first woman and first person of color, to land on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. The program also plans to establish a moon-orbiting station called Gateway, which will enable a long-term presence around the Moon. 

"Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to build a long-term human presence at the Moon for decades to come," NASA officials said prior to the launch. "The primary goals for Artemis I are to demonstrate Orion’s systems in a spaceflight environment and ensure a safe re-entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II." 

NASA plans to use lessons learned during the lunar program to help send astronauts to Mars, which they believe could happen in the late 2030s or early 2040s. Originally scheduled to launch in August, Artemis 1 faced delays due to issues with fuel leaks and two hurricanes. The agency has been working toward the historic launch for over a decade following the end of its space shuttle program in 2011. 

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