Artemis 1 took off at 6.47am (1.47am local time), with Nasa’s Space Launch System rocket, its most powerful ever, propelling the Orion spacecraft upwards from the agency’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. “We rise together, back to the moon and beyond,” said Nasa’s official commentator as the rocket took off.
The uncrewed mission around the moon will pave the way for a crewed flight test and future human lunar exploration as part of Artemis. Nasa flight director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson addressed her colleagues at the Kennedy Space Centre after the launch.
She said: “You are part of a first – it doesn’t come along very often, once in a career, maybe. We are all part of something incredibly special: the first launch of Artemis. The first step in returning our country to the moon and on to Mars. What you have done today will inspire generations to come.”
Ms Blackwell-Thompson, who had her tie cut following the successful launch in keeping with Nasa tradition, added: “The harder the climb, the better the view. We showed the space coast tonight what a beautiful view it is.”
The 322ft (98m) tall Space Launch System rocket is due to take the Orion capsule, powered by the Airbus-built European Service Module (ESM), into the moon’s orbit. The flight, which will carry mannequins rather than astronauts, marks the next chapter in putting humans back on the moon. There will be people on board for subsequent missions, with the first crewed flight into space scheduled for 2024.
The last manned mission to the Moon was Apollo 17, which took place in December 1972. Bill Nelson, administrator of Nasa, said the launch team were “part of a great legacy”.
The Nasa boss added: “This legacy is now taking us as we explore the heavens. It didn’t end with Apollo 17 – this time we’re going back, we’re going to learn a lot of what we have to, and then we’re going to Mars with humans.”
Mr Nelson said it was a priority for Nasa to land the first woman and person of colour on the moon through the mission because it was “reflective of America”.