NASA’s Artemis 1 successfully launched early Wednesday morning, the first step in mankind’s historic return to the Moon.
NASA described the launch of the Space Launch System (SLS), carrying the Orion spacecraft capsule, as the beginning of "a new chapter in human lunar exploration."
At approximately 1:47 am, the Space Launch System announced the SLS successfully took off from Launch Complex 39B in Florida, beginning a complex, weeks-long process.
"The primary goal of Artemis I is to thoroughly test the integrated systems before crewed missions by operating the spacecraft in a deep space environment, testing Orion’s heat shield, and recovering the crew module after reentry, descent, and splashdown," NASA said in a statement.
Within minutes, the rocket reached several key milestones — which were widely applauded by the NASA crew and supporters.
Onlookers got to see the rocket radiate across the night sky as it slowly disappeared from view, with its various components breaking off from the main rocket to allow for deep space travel.
About two minutes after launch, NASA’s Rachel Kraft said the rocket successfully completed its core main engine cutoff and its core stage separation, where "the core stage has separated from the interim cryogenic propulsion stage and Orion spacecraft."
The rocket will look to reach other milestones amid the historic flight, including the service module fairing jettison, deployment of Orion’s solar arrays and other maneuvers.
The Artemis 1 mission intends to fully test and demonstrate "Orion’s systems in a spaceflight environment and ensure a safe re-entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II."
The rocket launch was initially scheduled for September but was delayed due to Hurricane Ian.
The mission duration is expected to last 25 days and 11 hours, with the rocket traveling over 1.3 million miles in that time.
The rocket and the three test dummies aboard are expected to return to Earth and splash down on Dec. 11, 2022.