The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported the successful takeoff of the Space Launch System, which carries the Orion unmanned spacecraft, which is already heading to the Moon as part of the Artemis program. It is the first leg of a round trip mission over the course of 25.5 days. Known as Artemis I, the 40,000-mile mission is a critical part of NASA's Moon-to-Mars exploration approach, the agency will be exploring to benefit humans. This system is an important test for the agency before sending astronauts on the Artemis II mission. After reaching its initial orbit, Orion deployed its solar arrays and engineers began performing checks on the spacecraft systems. About 1.5 flight hours later, the rocket's upper stage motor successfully fired for about 18 minutes to give Orion the big boost needed to send it out of Earth orbit and toward the Moon. Orion separated from its upper stage and is on its way out to the Moon powered by its service module, which is the propulsion power plant provided by the ESA (European Space Agency) through an international collaboration. In the hours that followed, a series of 10 small scientific investigations and technology demonstrations, called CubeSats, will be deployed from a ring connecting the upper stage to the spacecraft. Each CubeSat has its own mission that has the potential to fill in gaps in our knowledge of the solar system or demonstrate technologies that can benefit the design of future missions to explore the Moon and beyond. In the coming days, mission controllers at NASA Johnson Space Center will perform additional checks and course corrections as needed. Orion is expected to fly close to the Moon on November 21 and make a close approach to the lunar surface on its way to a distant retrograde orbit, a highly stable orbit thousands of miles beyond the Moon. Through Artemissions, NASA will put the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence that serves as a springboard for astronauts on their way to Mars.
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