New Orleans Plays Pivotal Role in the Future of NASA Spaceflight

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis I mission is the first integrated flight test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems. SLS and Orion launched at 1:47 a.m. EST, from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)| License

Early Wednesday morning, NASA launched its Artemis I flight test – the first integrated flight test of the agency’s new deep space exploration systems. Among those important systems is the Space Launch System rocket (SLS), the most powerful rocket ever built and the Orion spacecraft – both of which are assembled right here in New Orleans.

At the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans East, NASA works with contractors from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrup Grumman, to design, develop, test, and produce the core stage, upper stage, and rocket boosters of the Space Launch System as well as the Orion spacecraft that sits atop the SLS. MAF employs over 3,500 people on site and is home to both the world’s largest robotic tool for building rockets and the National Center for Advanced Manufacturing.

“Progress is a defining characteristic of our City, and it’s only fitting that the women and men of New Orleans play such a vital role in this historic space mission,” said Mayor Cantrell. “The Artemis rocket, proudly developed and constructed in New Orleans East, will explore the heavens, and the knowledge she returns will benefit our world for generations to come.”

The Artemis missions represent the future of human spaceflight, including eventually landing the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. Later Artemis missions will pave the way for a long-term human presence on the moon and will serve as the first step on the way to Mars.

“What an incredible sight to see NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch together for the first time,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “This uncrewed flight test will push Orion to the limits in the rigors of deep space, helping us prepare for human exploration on the Moon and, ultimately, Mars.”

Artemis I was initially expected to launch in August of this year but issues with a faulty temperature sensor and a liquid hydrogen leak delayed the launch. The rocket then had to be returned to the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center ahead of Hurricane Ian, though it rode out weaker Hurricane Nicole at the launchpad. During Wednesday’s launch, there were some concerns regarding another liquid hydrogen leak, however, a team was able to repair it and allow the launch to continue.

“The Space Launch System rocket delivered the power and performance to send Orion on its way to the Moon,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager. “With the accomplishment of the first major milestone of the mission, Orion will now embark on the next phase to test its systems and prepare for future missions with astronauts.”

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