Updated Nov 16, 2022 - Science

NASA launches its new Moon rocket for 1st time

SLS rocket launch

The Space Launch System rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center. Photo: NASA TV

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/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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