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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully launched the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier today. SLS launched from NASA's Launch Pad 39B at 01:47:44 am ET as part of a highly anticipated launch that has seen engineers work hard for years to conduct the first flight for a multi-year effort to establish a sustained presence on the Moon.
NASA's SLS Rocket Takes Off For Nearly Month-Long Mission To The Moon
Today's launch marked the culmination of several efforts from NASA to launch SLS. These efforts had initially kicked off in August, but several problems, such as faulty sensors, fuel leaks and even a hurricane prevented NASA from conducting the first launch of its largest rocket ever built.
However, this time around, engineers were able to solve all challenges that came their way. Hydrogen, which is the fuel of the rocket, is tricky to work with and leaks are common for all rockets that use it for fuel. Prior to today's launch, a leak on the core stage replenishment valve connecting the mobile launcher to the SLS led to Hydrogen concentration becoming more than 1%. Following this, NASA's Red team rushed to the pad and fixed the rocket.
Then, the Space Force's launch squadron reported that a bad ethernet switch made them unable to access the radar for data from the SLS's launch abort system. This system is a crucial feature of the rocket, and it is responsible for jettisoning the crew away from the rocket at any point during its flight should there be any problems. It also tracks the rocket over the ocean and sends signals to the abort system in case of an emergency.
NASA then held the countdown for half an hour prior to launch, as the Space Force rushed to replace the switch and conduct the required tests to ensure that it was working.
While this was happening, NASA engineers had successfully filled the first, or the core stage, of the rocket with Oxygen and Hydrogen. They had stopped the flow while the Red team was fixing the valve, and due to its physical properties, Hydrogen inside the rocket boiled off. The engineers successfully topped off the boiled Hydrogen as well and then proceeded to fill up the second stage with the propellant and the Oxidizer. Engineers also discovered some deposits on an Orion sensor but determined that the rocket was safe to fly. This was the result of the rocket being left on the pad during the recent hurricane in Florida and involved its room temperature vulcanization (RTV) adhesive silicone rubber.
Now that it has taken to the skies, the SLS will continue its journey until the boosters, the core stage and the launch abort system separate from the second stage. Following this, the second stage and Orion will raise their orbit and check systems and solar panels to prepare for a translunar injection burn. This burn will last for roughly 20 minutes and after this, the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) will separate and Orion will be on its way to the Moon.
Its journey will see the spacecraft fly in what is called a distant retrograde lunar orbit. This is a unique orbit that balances out the spaceship between the Earth and the Moon involving Orion going as close as 62 miles close to the Moon and then the farthest that NASA has sent a human-rated spacecraft in its history (40,000 miles beyond the far side of the Moon). Once in it, Orion will orbit the Moon in the opposite direction of the Moon's orbit around the Earth. During its journey, Orion will travel 1.3 million miles and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere at an eye-popping speed of 24,500 miles per hour. The spaceship is currently scheduled to make its way back to its home planet on December 11, 2022.