Epic Artemis 1 moon rocket launch spotted streaking through Earth's atmosphere in satellite image

streaking image of a rocket caught across a background map of moving clouds
Artemis 1's water vapor plume is caught in this animation from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) GOES East satellite on Nov. 16, 2022. (Image credit: NOAA)

That's one speedy streaker caught flying to space.

A weather satellite captured NASA's Artemis 1 mission in the moments after it lifted off for the moon on Wednesday (Nov. 16). Although the launch blasted off a pad in Florida at 1:47 a.m. EST (0647 GMT) in total darkness, the water plume of the Space Launch System was visible in the view of the GOES East satellite.

"You can see the rocket streaking through the atmosphere in this water vapor imagery," the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operates GOES East, said in a tweet (opens in new tab).

GOES East's mid-level water vapor band is normally used for looking at winds in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, known as the troposphere, along with looking at jet streams, generating hurricane and storm motion predictions and estimating moisture, according to a NOAA backgrounder page (opens in new tab).

Related: Artemis 1 launch photos: Amazing views of NASA's moon rocket debut (gallery)

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Artemis 1 has also been generating imagery from space on its own, with the first lower-resolution images beaming back already in the hours after launch. Parts of the Orion spacecraft are visible in these first-look views, along with the curve of the Earth in the background.

Images from ground, Earth's atmosphere and space will all be used in assessing the engineering success of Artemis 1. The flight is an uncrewed debut effort within NASA's larger Artemis program, which aims to put people on the moon in mid-decade at the earliest.

Next up, assuming Artemis 1 goes to plan, is the Artemis 2 crewed mission that will loop around the moon no earlier than 2024, and the Artemis 3 landing mission set so far for 2025 or 2026.

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace