If everything goes according to plan during the three-week trip, the rocket will launch an empty crew capsule into a large orbit around the Moon, where it will remain until December when it will crash down in the Pacific.
The Space Launch System rocket roared aloft after years of delays and billions in cost overruns, soaring from Kennedy Space Center on 4 million kilogrammes (8.8 million pounds) of thrust and reaching 160km/h (100 mph) in a matter of seconds. Not quite two hours into the flight, the Orion capsule was sitting on top, prepared to break out of Earth orbit and head for the Moon.
The rocket’s frustrating fuel leaks kept it hopping between its hangar and the launch pad for over three months before the moonshot. Hurricane Ian at the end of September sent the rocket back inside, but Hurricane Nicole this week, with gusts of more than 130 km/h, left it outside (80 mph). Managers approved the launch even though the wind tore away a 3-metre (10-foot) strip of caulking high up close to the capsule.
The NASA Artemis lunar exploration programme, named for Apollo’s mythical twin sister, officially began with the liftoff. The next mission, scheduled for 2024, will carry four men around the Moon, with the possibility of a 2025 landing.
The 98-meter (322-foot) SLS is NASA’s most potent rocket to date, producing more thrust than the space shuttle or the formidable Saturn V that launched astronauts to the moon.
By Monday, Orion should have travelled more than 370,000 kilometres (230,000 miles) to the Moon. The spacecraft will enter a distant orbit that extends for nearly 64,000 kilometres (40,000 miles) after approaching within 130 kilometres (80 miles) of the Moon.
The $25-day test trip, which will cost $4.1 billion, will roughly correspond to the time the personnel will spend on board. Before astronauts board, the space agency plans to drive the spaceship to its absolute limits to find any issues. The mannequins, or moonequins as NASA refers to them, are equipped with sensors to gauge cosmic radiation, acceleration, and vibration.
By 2017, the rocket was anticipated to have completed its dry run. According to government watchdogs, NASA will have invested $93 billion in the project by 2025.
By the late 2030s or early 2040s, NASA hopes to build a base on the Moon and deploy astronauts to Mars.