NASA launches its new Moon rocket for the first time

NASA launches its new Moon rocket for the first time

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket took flight for the first time Wednesday, ushering in a new era of exploration for the space agency.

Why it matters: This uncrewed launch — called Artemis I — is expected to pave the way for NASA to one day send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the end of the Apollo program in the 1970s.

A screenshot of the Orion Spacecraft tweet that it's moonbound.
Photo: NASA/Twitter

Details: The SLS launched an Orion capsule that will journey around the Moon before coming back to Earth for a splashdown expected in December.

  • The SLS took flight at 1:47am ET from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • The launch comes after years of technical development delays and months of launch delays caused by fuel leaks and even a hurricane hitting the multi-billion rocket while it was on its pad.

Source: NASA; Note: Not to scale and simplified for clarity; Graphic: Kavya Beheraj and Sarah Grillo/AxiosSource: NASA; Note: Not to scale and simplified for clarity; Graphic: Kavya Beheraj and Sarah Grillo/Axios

Source: NASA; Note: Not to scale and simplified for clarity; Graphic: Kavya Beheraj and Sarah Grillo/Axios

The big picture: Wednesday’s launch is effectively a technology test of the rocket and capsule ahead of putting people on board.

  • NASA aims to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon using the SLS and Orion in 2025.
  • The space agency plans to one day build a small Gateway space station in lunar orbit and use the Moon as a testing ground for human missions to Mars.

But, but, but: There’s still a long way to go before NASA can send people to the Moon aboard the Orion and SLS.

  • SpaceX is currently building a lunar lander based on its Starship that’s meant to bring astronauts to the lunar surface under a contract with the space agency.
  • NASA is also working with two companies to build spacesuits for use on the Moon.
  • Both of those tasks are major technical hurdles that NASA and these private companies will need to overcome before a crewed lunar landing is possible.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a screenshot of the NASA Orion Spacecraft Twitter page’s tweet.

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