CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – Orion is in flight!
A thunderous roar could be heard miles around NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) here early Wednesday morning (November 16) as the agency Space Launch System (SLS) launched an uncrewed Orion spacecraft onto the Artemis 1 mission to the moon.
OrionThe journey will take it through a high elliptical lunar orbit as the vehicle is put through its paces to test the spacecraft’s resilience for future crewed flights on Artemis 2 and beyond. The capsule’s rescue cruise will end Dec. 11 with a parachute-assisted plunge into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.
Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Live Updates
After: 10 unusual facts about the Artemis 1 lunar mission
The Launch of Artemis 1 was a milestone for NASA. The agency’s long-term crewed lunar plans, and the infrastructure to support it, have been beset with budget issues, production delays, restructuring and pushback from critics who see the near $40 billion spent on development, and SLS estimates. $4.1 billion cost per launchbe too high a price for a rocket built around Space Shuttle-era technology.
So Artemis 1’s success so far is sweet for NASA, and it’s been a while for the agency to savor it.
During a post-launch briefing Wednesday morning, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised mission managers and everyone at NASA with a helping hand in the ten-year road of the SLS to take off.
“The legacy that this professional crew has put in place to bring us to this day over the years is one that has indeed been well deserved and will continue as we return to the moon and then we go to March“Nelson said.
Nelson, like many senior NASA officials, watched the liftoff from KSC’s Launch Control Center (LCC).
“You should have heard from the other astronauts I was with,” Nelson said during the briefing. “We were at Launch Control Center and we all went up to the roof so we could feel that acoustic shock wave and see, untouched, that tail of flame – of fire. And then see that column of smoke, even in the dark of the night. It was quite overwhelming.
Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin also attended the briefing. “Today we saw the most powerful rocket in the world take Earth by its edges and shake the bad guys out of it,” he said. “And it was quite a sight.”
Everyone present at Wednesday’s 5 a.m. briefing, still watching Artemis lift off hours earlier, had pretty sleepy eyes as they approached the end of the night’s marathon coverage of the launch.
Liftoff, however, was really just the start of the Artemis 1 mission, as Sarafin pointed out. “There’s certainly a relief that we’re underway, but we also have a heightened sense of awareness that this mission is underway. And personally, I’m not going to rest well until we’re safe for the splashes and recovery.”
The sight of the two blindingly white solid rocket booster ignitions of SLS brought back memories for SLS program manager John Honeycutt of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
“I [was] looking at this big ball of fire and I think, ‘You know, it’s been a little over 12 years since I’ve experienced this,'” he said during the briefing, probably referring to a spaceship launch. (The SLS solid rocket boosters are based on the vehicles used during the shuttle program, and the SLS main stages use shuttle main engines.) “And it’s so great to be back in the company. Artemis program and many generations to come. The team has just done an outstanding job.”
Related: Facts About NASA’s Artemis Program
Chief Flight Director Emily Nelson also attended the briefing and she sang the praises of the mission control ground crews. “The LCC team just did a flawless job going through refueling and liftoff and then the MCC Houston team did a smooth handover and executed the rest of that climb to orbit,” Nelson said. . “It was really great to see these teams have the opportunity to use the expertise they have developed over years of training and preparation. This mission is not only going to test the spacecraft, but it will also test the teams.” .”
Back in the LCC, after Orion was inserted into Earth orbit, Artemis Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson addressed the console operators.
“Well, for once, I might be speechless,” Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s first female launch director, told all of mission control. “I want you to look around, to look at this team and know that you’ve earned it. You’ve earned your place in this room. You’ve earned this moment. You’ve earned your place in history . You were part of a first.”
She echoed the words she told them before takeoff: “The harder the climb, the better the view. We showed the Space Coast tonight what a beautiful view it is.”
Blackwell-Thompson then made an announcement. “We have a few traditions here in Launch Control. And the first is that when you’re in the position for the first time, you get a tie cut,” she explained.
“So I’ve got my launch director scissors, and I’m going to get my tie cut by some legends that are here,” she said, waving at former Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach, who had the honor of cutting Blackwell-Thompson’s tie. She turned back to the room full of console operators and continued, almost choking on her words as her emotions rose to the surface, “Anyone who wants to get their ties cut, we’ll go around the shooting room. You have your console heads , if they want to do it that’s fine if you want me to do it you might have to wait a bit but i’ll stay all night if need be. a pleasure to cut ties.”
Continuing the tradition of the tie-cut, former Space Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach cuts the tie for Kennedy’s first female launch director, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson. Tradition means the first time in a console position after a successful launch. pic.twitter.com/3nrLWRU4LrNovember 16, 2022
Over the next few days, Orion will close the distance to the moonmaking its closest approach to the lunar surface on Monday November 21, flying just 97 kilometers above the rock and regolith.
“We are on the first day of a 26-day mission,” Sarafin observed during Wednesday’s briefing. “We reduced a lot of risk today, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
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