CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW) – It took longer than expected due to various delays caused by weather and mechanical issues, but NASA’s Artemis 1 rocket blasted off early Wednesday morning.

Now, the un-crewed Orion capsule is speeding toward the moon to usher in a new era of space exploration.

The launch of Artemis 1 was closely watched by a team of engineers at NASA Glenn in Cleveland and the NASA Armstrong Test Facility in Sandusky, as years of their research, development, testing and production on the project were on display for the world to see.

“It was exciting, it was a relief. I think a lot of years of hard work that we’ve had to get here, but to see it finally go up into space after a few challenges was really great,” said Josh Freeh, manager of NASA Glenn’s Human Exploration and Space Operations Project Office.

Fifty years after the last Apollo crew landed on the moon, Artemis 1 is the first in a series of missions that will eventually return humans to the lunar surface.

“This time we’re going to the south pole of the moon, where we know there is potentially water, which allows us for a more sustainable presence and learning how to live, let’s say, off the land, to be able to stay in space longer,” said Bryan Smith, NASA Glenn director of facilities, tests and manufacturing.

Among other things, the team at NASA Glenn has worked on the systems in the Orion capsule. It’s carrying mannequins into space on the Artemis 1 mission, but will eventually carry humans to the moon and beyond.

“When the initial engines on Orion started to burn, the orbital maneuvering system, those were our engines that we worked with, helped design, test, so people here, our engineers are looking at that very closely,” said Smith.

Also playing a crucial role in the development of the spacecraft were engineers at the Armstrong Testing Facility.

“It enabled us to test the entire module for the deep space conditions, thermal conditions, vibration conditions,” said Smith.

After the completion of Artemis 1, the Orion spacecraft will eventually be brought back to Northern Ohio for testing to determine how the mission affected the craft.

The next phase will be vital in NASA’s goal of making sure that astronauts will be safe as they embark on future missions in the Artemis program, with an ultimate goal of going to Mars.

“The series of missions will allow us to solve both a staying longer problem in space and a transportation problem that allows us to farther into space,” said Smith. 

The Orion spacecraft is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off California on Dec. 11.

Artemis 2, which will be a crewed mission, is scheduled to launch in May 2024.