Illustration by Dulce Pop Bonini

Back to the Moon: NASA Launches Artemis I

The launch of NASA’s most powerful rocket to date, Artemis, marks the revival of the moon missions. Here is an overview of the process, challenges, and implications of this mission.

Nov 21, 2022

At 1:47 a.m. EST on Nov. 16, the engine of NASA’s mega rocket Artemis I fired up and marked the beginning of a new era of space exploration. This is the most powerful rocket built by the agency and will carry the Orion capsule: hopefully, the module that will bring humanity back to the moon.
The launch of the rocket was delayed several times after it failed pre-flight testing in the past few months. The long-awaited maiden flight of the rocket was quite the spectacle. With 8.8 million pounds of thrust generated by the engines, it outperformed the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, previously the most powerful rocket with 5 million pounds of thrust.
Over 50 years since the Apollo mission that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon, Artemis I marks the revival of the moon missions. The unmanned Artemis I is going to be a 25-day mission whose aim is “to demonstrate Orion’s systems in a spaceflight environment and ensure a safe re-entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II,” according to NASA. The purpose of this test flight is to ensure the Orion capsule is also safe for a piloted flight. It is expected that within a couple of years it will be fully operational and be able to fly with a crew to the moon. This is going to be only the first in a series of test flights before a crew enters the Orion capsule and makes an attempt to reach our natural satellite.
The revival of the moon missions is mostly connected to scientific exploration and curiosity, but it also has some economic benefits. In a statement from early 2008, NASA shared that their biggest challenge would be to create livable outposts on the Moon, which they compared to the Scott-Amundsen stations on the South Pole. For now, their objectives remain the same. The scientists sent there would mostly carry out different experiments with plants, spectrometers, and phenomena related to gravity, which are now performed on the International Space Station. It is also connected to the overarching mission of reaching Mars, which brings a lot of external investments into the agency, making the Artemis I - Orion missions also an economic advantage for NASA.
The Artemis I launch marked another milestone in the history of the Space Agency: it was the first mission coordinated by a woman. Engineer Charlie Blackwell-Thompson was appointed launch director, oversaw all pre-flight procedures and called the historical “Go for launch” once all factors around the flight — weather conditions, engine tests, fuel checks, and many others — were favorable. In an interview with the New York Times, Blackwell-Thompson shared that while there had been 450 men and 1 woman — JoAnn Morgan — in the control room during the Apollo 11 mission, Artemis I is led by 100 engineers with over 30 women among them in Fire room 1.
This remains an ongoing story with another 15 days left of the mission. Many more challenges lie ahead for Blackwell-Thompson and her team.
Yana Peeva is Deputy Columns Editor. Email her at
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