NASA successfully launches Artemis I moon rocket

NASA/Bill Ingalls/Cover Images

NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world, and Orion spacecraft are on their way to the Moon.

The first stage of the Artemis programme successfully launched in the early hours of Wednesday morning from Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The launch is the first leg of a mission in which Orion is planned to travel approximately 40,000 miles beyond the Moon and return to Earth over the course of 25.5 days.

Known as Artemis I, the mission is a critical part of NASA's Moon to Mars exploration approach, in which the agency explores for the benefit of humanity. It's an important test for the agency before flying astronauts on the Artemis II mission.

"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.

After reaching its initial orbit, Orion deployed its solar arrays and engineers began performing checkouts of the spacecraft's systems. About 1.5 hours into the flight, the rocket's upper stage engine successfully fired for approximately 18 minutes to give Orion the big push needed to send it out of Earth orbit and toward the Moon.

Through Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a stepping stone for astronauts on the way to Mars.