After overcoming some last-minute technical issues, NASA’s Space Launch System, or S-L-S rocket and boosters successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early Wednesday, carrying an unmanned Orion spacecraft into the heavens on an initial test flight to the moon.
The lift-off came after months of scrubbed launch attempts and delays, the most recent of which was prompted by Hurricane Nicole, which pelted Florida last week.
The gathered crowds at NASA’s Press Site at Kennedy Space Center erupted in cheers as the countdown clock expired, signaling the take-off of the most powerful rocket ever created, which filled the nighttime sky in bright hues of yellow and orange.
“I always admired rockets and fast vehicles, and that’s probably why I became a fighter pilot now,” said Andrin, a Swiss Air Force F-18 fighter pilot who didn't give his last name for security reasons and traveled from Switzerland to Florida just to watch the historic Artemis 1 launch in person. “The SLS rocket has about 250 times the thrust of an F-18 fighter jet so that is quite a bit more than I am used to.”
“The loudest thing that has ever launched,” remarked Florida retiree John McDonald. Many of his friends and family members are employed in the aerospace industry and are invested in the success of NASA’s Artemis program to return to the moon, which is why the launch provided a much-needed sense of relief after repeated delays. “It validates what they have been working on for so long. They are so far over budget and so far over schedule, they really want to see this liftoff.”
McDonald joined throngs of visitors filling parks and viewing areas in the city of Titusville near Kennedy Space Center to witness the event he described as “unifying” for a country divided by polarizing politics.
“Nobody here is talking about whether they are Trump people or Biden people,” he said. “Politics doesn’t enter into any of this. They are just here for one thing, to see space and to see that rocket launch.”
One of the main goals of the 26-day Artemis 1 mission around the moon is to test the new Orion spacecraft in preparation for crewed missions that will land the first woman, the first person of color, and the first international astronauts on the lunar surface.
“This is the first leg of the race to Mars,” said Victor Glover, who is among the initial group of 18 astronauts tapped by NASA for Artemis missions that are to set the stage for a more permanent presence on – and around – the moon in preparation for the longer and more complex journey to Mars. “When this is successful, we will have finished the first leg of that race and we’ll be that much closer.”
The first crewed mission back to the moon – to orbit but not to land – is Artemis 2 currently scheduled for 2024, with Artemis 3 returning astronauts to the lunar surface as early as 2025.
While he admits his chances are slim, Swiss fighter pilot Andrin hopes to be one of those chosen few to set foot on the moon. “I always wanted to be an astronaut as a kid … we’ll see if that works out.”