Artemis I gets off the ground, propelling historic program

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NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA/Keegan Barber)

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – Cheers and applause erupted from spectators at Kennedy Space Center in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday morning as NASA’s Artemis I blasted off from Launch Pad 39B. The launch paves the way for the space agency to return astronauts to the Moon and later onto Mars.

The Space Launch System – NASA’S most powerful rocket – took off towards the Moon a 1:47 a.m. with a brilliant fireball against a pitch black sky that temporarily seared the image into onlookers’ eyes and a rumble that rattled their entire bodies.

Spectators at the Banana Creek viewing site watch the launch of the Artemis I test flight.
(NASA/Keegan Barber)

Those who watched the launch on NASA TV heard the countdown call 3-2-1 followed by the words, “We rise together back to the Moon and beyond.”

“What an incredible sight to see NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch together for the first time. This uncrewed flight test will push Orion to the limits in the rigors of deep space, helping us prepare for human exploration on the Moon and, ultimately, Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.

The third launch attempt proved to be the charm for NASA. Liquid hydrogen fuel leaks forced mission managers to scrub the first two attempts. Hurricanes Ian and Nicole caused further delays.

Managers resolved the earlier fuel leak issues by changing their procedures. Tanking for this launch began at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday and for most of the night proceeded smoothly. Managers called it a “clean count.” That changed around 10 p.m. The preparations hit a snag when a fuel leak developed in a core stage valve. Mission Manager Charlie Blackwell-Thompson authorized a dangerous operation and mobilized a specialized team known as red crew to head to the Launch Pad to fix the issue by tightening some nuts. One other issue with an ethernet switch arose but was also quickly remedied and the rocket launched only 43 minutes after its scheduled time and well within the two-hour window.

“It’s taken a lot to get here, but Orion is now on its way to the Moon,” said Jim Free, NASA deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. “This successful launch means NASA and our partners are on a path to explore farther in space than ever before for the benefit of humanity.”

Orion is expected to fly by the Moon on Nov. 21, performing a close approach of the lunar surface on its way to a distant retrograde orbit, a highly stable orbit thousands of miles beyond the Moon.

Orion will return to Earth, splashing down on Dec. 11 in the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of California.

Listen below: Jacob Sedesse reported this story for NPR.

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