NASA’s colossal next-generation moon rocket blasted off from Florida early on Wednesday on its debut flight, an unmanned voyage inaugurating the US space agency’s Artemis exploration program 50 years after the final Apollo moon mission.
The 32-story high Space Launch System (SLS) rocket blasted off from the launch pad of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to send its Orion capsule on a three-week test journey circling the moon and back without astronauts aboard.
Liftoff came on the third attempt at launching the long-delayed, multibillion-dollar rocket, after ten weeks beset by numerous technical mishaps, back-to-back hurricanes, and two excursions trundling the spacecraft out of its hangar to the launch pad.
Named the Artemis 1, the mission marks the first flight of NASA’s Orion capsule and the SLS rocket together, built by Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, respectively, under contract with NASA.
The SLS launch signals a major change in the director for NASA’s post-Apollo human spaceflight program after decades focused on low-Earth orbit with space shuttles and the International Space Station (ISS).
Named after the ancient Apollo’s twin sister and Greek goddess of the hunt — Artemis aims to return humans to the moon’s surface as early as 2025.