One year ago today, NASA’s Artemis I mission with its Orion spacecraft lifted off into the heavens and towards the Moon on its maiden flight aboard the mighty Space Launch System (SLS) at 1:47 am EST from historic Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The goal of the uncrewed mission was to conduct a shakedown of all systems and subsystems prior to crewed missions to the Moon and kicked off a new era in human spaceflight as no humans have ventured beyond low-Earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.
Image of NASA’s Artemis I aboard the Space Launch System lifting off from historic Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 2023 at 1:47 a.m. EST. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
Traveling a total of 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers) during its achieved mission time of 25 days, 10 hours, and 53 minutes, Orion conducted two flybys of our nearest celestial neighbor, with its closest approach to the lunar surface occurring on December 5 at 79.5 miles (128 kilometers). Additionally, Orion broke the record for the farthest distance from Earth by an Earth-returning human-rated spacecraft by traveling almost 270,000 miles (435,000 kilometers), which surpassed the previous record of 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) conducted by Apollo 13 in 1970.
The Artemis I mission officially ended on December 11 when it performed a flawless splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, ending a historic mission and setting the stage for upcoming Artemis missions, specifically Artemis II, which is slated to be the first crewed launch to the Moon in November 2024.
Artemis I was a mission a decade in the making, as it was first proposed in 2012 with a scheduled launch of 2017. Like most endeavors, this was met with setbacks, but the end result was nothing short of extraordinary, as the nighttime launch provided a spectacle not seen since the days of the Space Shuttle. With the Artemis II crew currently training for their upcoming mission, today we celebrate a historic milestone for NASA as Artemis I helped usher in a new era in human spaceflight as we prepare to return to the Moon, but this time, to stay.
How will the Artemis missions help humanity reach greater heights in space travel in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!