Nov. 16 (UPI) — NASA’s new rocket launched for the moon early Wednesday, the first in a series of Artemis missions that aim at returning astronauts to the lunar surface.
The new Space Launch System rocket carrying the uncrewed Orion spacecraft lifted off at 1:47 a.m. EST from launchpad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The mission is the first flight test of NASA’s SLS with Orion that officials said will provide the foundation for human deep space exploration as well as a demonstration of their capabilities to return humanity to the moon.
The rocket is expected travel 280,000 miles from Earth and thousands of miles beyond the moon during its 25-day flight before landing back in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, Calif., on Dec. 11.
“This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t know,” Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. “It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.”
NASA said the Artemis I mission is a test of the integration of the two systems as well as Orion’s heat shield and the ability to recover the crew module following re-entry, descent and splashdown before it proceeds with manned missions.
Liftoff occurred Wednesday following a series of setbacks that have delayed the start of the Artemis missions, beginning with the scrubbing of two launches, one in late August and the other in early September, related to malfunctions of the engines and the rocket’s fuel systems.
A handful of late season hurricanes pushed the launch date to Monday, which was also postponed to Wednesday due to last week’s Hurricane Nicole.
Wednesday’s launch was given the go-ahead late last week following inspections that showed the rocket had only sustained minimal damage from the storm.
The Artemis II flight test is to be its first crewed mission that will transport four astronauts around the moon, with Artemis III to see the first woman and a man land on the lunar surface.