Speed Reads

Moonshot Test Flight

NASA begins Artemis I moon mission with launch of mighty SLS rocket

Third time was a charm for NASA's Artemis I space mission.

The U.S. space agency launched the Orion spacecraft aboard its new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from Florida's Cape Canaveral early Wednesday morning, bringing the U.S. one big step closer to putting astronauts on the moon for the first time since NASA ended the Apollo program 50 years ago. "For the Artemis generation, this is for you," launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said right before liftoff.

This was NASA's third attempt to launch the Orion-loaded 322-foot SLS, the most powerful rocket it has ever built. The two previous attempts were thwarted by hydrogen fuel leaks in the rocket and by Hurricane Ian. The SLS lifted off a little behind schedule, after an emergency crew fixed a fuel leak on the launch platform (not the rocket) and technicians got a Space Force radar station back online. 

This Artemis I test flight is sending three test dummies, led by "Moonikin Campos" in the commander's chair, in orbit around the moon. The flight is scheduled to last about 25 days, and one of the main things NASA will be watching is how the mannequins fare in the Orion capsule as it passes about 80 miles above the moon and returns home. If all goes well, astronauts will repeat the flight in 2024, then travel to the lunar surface in 2025 aboard a Starship shuttle designed to transport crew to and from the orbiting Orion capsule. No astronaut has landed on the moon since Apollo 17 in December 1972.

The ultimate goal of the Artemis program — named after Apollo's twin sister — is to set up a permanent base on the moon from which NASA can send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s or 2040s. 

The Orion capsule was in orbit around the Earth about 15 minutes after takeoff, and is scheduled to reach lunar orbit by Monday. The capsule should splash down in the Pacific Ocean in about three weeks.