After its fair share of delays, NASA’s Artemis I spacecraft is on its way to the Moon! It blasted off from Florida at about 1:47am in a spectacular display. This is the first launch of the Artemis mission, which will eventually return people to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. It’s also a step towards putting people on Mars. For now, the uncrewed spacecraft is heading to the Moon and back to test all of the Artemis systems.
Within minutes, the spacecraft had shed its rocket engines and unfurled solar panels in Earth’s orbit. There’s lots more coverage coming from NASA, including the first photos the vehicle takes of Earth. Artemis I will be on a close approach to the Moon in just a few days and then again when it starts the journey back to Earth. Splashdown back on Earth is scheduled for December 11, 2022. You can track the Artemis I spacecraft over the 26 day mission. A video of the launch is also now available.
NASA scrubbed previous launch attempts on August 29 (engine temperature issues) and September 3 (leaking liquid hydrogen). Teams made repairs on the launch pad on those occasions because moving the rocket back into its hangar is a process that takes eight hours of cautious driving and risks further delays.
But once Hurricane Ian threatened the area, a September 27 launch date was also scrubbed and the rocket was rolled into its hangar for safety. It weathered the dregs of Hurricane Nicole on the launch pad in early November as well.
Instead of a human crew, Artemis I is taking a few dummies, called Moonikins by NASA. Two female moonikins are aboard. One is wearing a radiation vest and one is not, both connected to sensors that track the levels of exposure.
The spacecraft is also carrying assorted swag on the mission. NASA released a list of flags, patches, and pins, (which we learned about on DesignTAXI). The list also includes seeds, Girl Scout merit badges, and USB drives containing people’s names, essays, and artwork. A plush Shaun the Sheep is also aboard. The popular character posted blogs and photos during training for the mission.
Artemis I will deploy 10 CubeSats near the Moon. These measure gravity, radiation, and other parameters to help on future missions. There’s even one named IceCube that will look for water on the lunar surface.
NASA recently announced the landing site options for Artemis III, which will be the first crewed mission. Its scheduled to bring the first woman and person of color to the Moon in 2025. The last time people were on the Moon was the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Artemis II launches in 2024 and will see a crew orbit the Moon without landing.
NASA teams have been testing out lots of new technology to help astronauts once they’re on the Moon, including a backpack that 3D maps the lunar environment and the water-seeking VIPER rover. There’s also a lot of people and NASA facilities involved in tracking and communicating with the mission from back on Earth. We talked to the Artemis team at Comic-Con about the mission and their science fiction influences. Like us, they’re excited about returning people to the Moon, and eventually make it to Mars.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.