NASA's Artemis 1 mission has finally launched after several delays caused by engine problems, fuel leaks and Mother Nature giving the agency no choice but to reschedule due to tropical storms. This is the first time NASA's Space Launch System, its most powerful rocket yet, and Orion crew vehicle are flying together — it also officially marks the beginning of the agency's Artemis program, which aims to take humanity back to the Moon.
There was a tense moment before this latest (and successful) launch attempt when NASA was unsure if the rocket would lift off. The launch team discovered a leak on the launch tower's liquid hydrogen replenish valve, and it took some time to tighten the bolts around it. In addition, the US Space Force had to fix the radar that was going to track the rocket's launch, because it suddenly went offline. In the end, the ground crew managed to fix the hydrogen leak, and Space Force found that the radar issue was caused by a bad Ethernet switch.
NASA had to push back Artemis 1's launch by around an hour, but that was the last time the mission got delayed. By 1:50AM Eastern, SLS was leaving its launchpad. The Orion capsule successfully deployed its solar arrays a few minutes later, and the core stage's engines powered down so it could break away and fall into the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket's second stage will then fire its engine to send Orion on a trajectory to the Moon. It will also ultimately break away, leaving the crew vehicle to go on a four-week journey around the Moon before coming back to Earth. Somewhere along the way, the capsule will deploy 10 CubeSats designed to perform their own science investigations meant to help future deep space missions.
Artemis 1 will give NASA the data it needs to ensure that astronauts can safely fly to the Moon aboard the Orion capsule. It will also give the agency the opportunity to see whether the vehicle's heat shield can adequately protect the astronauts onboard when it re-enters our atmosphere and splashes down into the Pacific Ocean. If everything checks out, NASA will be able to start planning for Artemis 2, which will be Orion's first crewed mission and will send astronauts on a lunar flyby.