(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) –In a jaw-dropping spectacle, the 322-foot-tall Artemis moon rocket, the most powerful ever built for NASA, finally blasted off Wednesday with an eruption of white-hot fire and an earth-shaking roar, boosting an uncrewed Orion capsule on a long-awaited flight to the moon.
After multiple delays due to repeated hydrogen fuel leaks, ground system glitches, two hurricanes and back-to-back launch slips, the Space Launch System rocket’s four main engines finally roared to life at 1:47 a.m. EST, followed a few seconds later by ignition of two strap-on solid-fuel boosters.
At that instant, four explosive bolts at the base of each booster detonated to free the SLS from its launch stand and the 5.7-million pound rocket leaped away from pad 39B, propelled skyward by 8.8 million pounds of thrust.
“Seven, six, five, core stage engine start, three, two one, booster ignition and liftoff of Artemis 1!” exclaimed NASA commentator Derrol Nail from the launch control center. “We rise together back to the moon and beyond!”
The launching came 43 minutes later than planned because of work to fix an intermittent leak in a hydrogen valve on the rocket’s mobile launch platform and because of a glitch that briefly interrupted radar tracking data. But once the problems were resolved, the final 10 minutes of the countdown ticked off without a hitch and the SLS rocket finally blasted off on its oft-delayed maiden voyage.
The Boeing-managed rocket hit 70 miles an hour — straight up — in just seven seconds, a stirring spectacle not seen since the last shuttle launch in 2011. And as with the shuttle, the initial moments of liftoff occurred in eerie silence.
But moments later, a roaring wall of sound reached the nearest observers 4.2 miles from the launch pad, accompanied by ground-shaking earthquake-like tremors.
Briefly turning night into day as it consumed its propellants, lost weight and accelerated, the SLS put on a dazzling sky show, thrilling thousands of spaceport workers, area residents and tourists who stayed up late to take in the historic launching.