Artemis I, Nasa’s first mission to the Moon in 50 years since the Apollo programme, has blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The Orion capsule will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown on Dec. 11 in the Pacific Ocean — off the coast of San Diego, California.
As the most powerful rocket sent into the space in nearly 50 years, Nasa said it is the first time that its Space Launch System (SLS) and spacecraft (Orion) fly together. The programme is aimed at bringing humanity to the Moon and further space exploration.
“#Artemis I begins a new chapter in human lunar exploration,” Nasa announced on Twitter.
The Artemis II mission, scheduled for 2024, will take four astronauts on an identical journey around the Moon and back. Artemis III will put astronauts down on the surface of the Moon in a landmark mission, near the lunar south pole around 2025.
Nasa had to scrub initial attempts at launch following technical issues with one of the four RS-25 engines. This followed two hurricanes and two months of technical fixes before the US space agency gave the “go” to proceed with the launch of the high-profile mission that was decades in the making.
Artemis I — currently on course for the Earth’s natural satellite — will journey to the farthest point a spacecraft designed for humans has ever ventured.
Nasa plans to build a small Gateway space station in the lunar orbit — in future — and use the Moon as a testing ground for coming human missions to Mars.
Man returns to Moon
Fifty-three years after humans first walked on the surface of the Moon, NASA’s ambitious Artemis programme aims to return humans to the lunar surface.
Artemis I, marks the inaugural flight of both the SLS rocket and the Orion crew capsule. And it kicks off Nasa’s multi-mission Artemis programme, which is focused on sending astronauts, including the first woman and the first person of colour, back to the Moon’s surface in the next three years.
The SLS, built by Boeing Co., is meant to be the primary vehicle that will be used to transport humans to the vicinity of the moon; the Orion crew capsule is built by Lockheed Martin Corp.
With Wednesday’s launch, Nasa intends to show that the combined SLS and Orion vehicles can safely do their jobs before astronauts ever climb aboard.
Nasa’s next-generation spacecraft has a crew capsule that is 30% more in volume than the Apollo capsule and can sustain a future crew of four for up to 21 days during its initial missions to low lunar orbit, according to the space agency.
The capsule will travel 1.3 million miles to orbit the Moon. The current mission will include a number of critical and carefully planned manoeuvres.
On July 20, 1969 humans landed on the Moon for the first time, as part of the Apollo 11 mission. Neil Armstrong, Nasa astronaut and aeronautical engineer, became the first person to walk on the moon.
The last of the astronauts to walk on the surface of the moon were from Apollo 17 mission in 1972. A total of 12 astronauts (all Americans) have walked on the surface of the moon till date.
Perhaps nothing lifts the human spirit more than watching humanity rise from earth to above and beyond — in our quest to understand the infinite sea of universe.
Nasa’s launch of Artemis reignites that human thirst and curiosity of space and the cosmos.
Why were there no lunar missions in the last 50 years?
The Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 was a huge feat of human endeavour, engineering and science. It was a moment that the world had been waiting for.
Apollo 11 was followed by six further trips to the Moon, five of which landed successfully.
The last manned mission to the Moon was Apollo 17, taking place between 7 and 19 December 1972.
It was a 12-day mission and broke many records, the longest spacewalk, the longest lunar landing and the largest lunar samples brought back to Earth.
Harrison H. Schmitt was the lunar module pilot, as well as being a geologist. He was joined by Ronald E. Evans as command module pilot and Eugene Cernan as Mission Commander.
But in 1970 future Apollo missions were cancelled. The main reason for this was money. The cost of getting to the Moon was astronomical.
How to follow Orion on its journey to the moon and back
Nasa has built a website that will allow people to follow the journey of the Orion spacecraft as it flies from Earth to the moon and back again.
The website will “provide real-time data beginning about one minute after lift-off” and chronicle its flight for the days to come, as it flies some 40,000 miles past the moon.
Artemis I in numbers
24,500 miles per hour (39,400kph) is the speed at which Orion will enter the Earth’s atmosphere on its return.
1 hr 53 sec after lift-off, the rocket was 2,400 miles (3,860km) above Earth.
90,000 gallons (409,150 litres) of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen will be burned every minute for eight minutes by four RS-25 engines that are part of the Space Launch System.
11 parachutes make up Orion’s parachute system.
280,000 miles (450,600km) is the distance the Artemis I mission will travel from Earth, far beyond the moon.
8.8 million pounds (4 million kg) is the thrust the Space Launch System produces to leave Earth’s atmosphere.
322 feet (98m) is the height of the Artemis I rocket stack.
1.3 million miles (2.1 million km) is the total distance that the Artemis I mission will cover.
25 days is the duration of the Artemis I mission to the moon and back.
8-14 days is how long it’ll take to get from the Earth to the moon.
(With inputs from agencies)