NASA Returns to Spaceflight with Successful Launch of Artemis I Rocket

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, November 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Early in the morning on November 16, NASA launched its new Artemis mega rocket and kickstarted its program to return humans to the Moon this decade. The spacecraft includes the new Orion capsule—designed to deliver astronauts to and from the lunar surface—perched atop the Space Launch System rocket. Also on board are 10 CubeSats deployed early in the mission to perform technology demonstrations and experiments on lunar science and radiation. Although future flights will carry four astronauts in the Orion module, this flight is uncrewed to determine the conditions the astronauts will experience during later missions.

The Artemis I mission will last 25.5 days, during which the Orion module will cruise for nearly a week before reaching the Moon. Once successfully inserted into lunar orbit, Orion will orbit for six days while collecting data on its performance to prepare for future flights. Finally, a preplanned rocket engine burn will put the spacecraft on an Earthbound trajectory, after which it is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds up to 25,000 miles per hour to test the limits of its heat shield.

NASA has prioritized returning to the Moon for several reasons. The main objective is to establish a permanent base near the lunar south pole to utilize subsurface water for habitation and fuel while collecting samples of the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the oldest and largest lunar impact basin, to better understand the effects of large planetary collisions. Additionally, given the significantly reduced gravitational pull of the Moon compared to Earth, NASA hopes a lunar basecamp may serve as a launch point for missions to Mars because of the lower energy requirements to enter interplanetary space. If successful, the Artemis mission marks a return to crewed lunar exploration after a 50-year hiatus and affirms NASA’s goal of an established lunar science program. READ MORE