STORY: The 32-story Space Launch System (SLS) rocket surged off the launch pad from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral at 1:47 a.m. EST, to send its Orion capsule on a three-week test journey.
The flight will bring it to within 60 miles of the lunar surface before sailing 40,000 miles beyond the moon and back to Earth.
Liftoff came on the third attempt at launching the long-delayed, multibillion-dollar rocket, after 10 weeks beset by numerous technical mishaps, back-to-back hurricanes and two excursions trundling the spacecraft out of its hangar to the launch pad.
Wednesday's launch was not without its own drama. A three-man "red team" was scrambled out to the launch pad in the final hours of the countdown to tighten bolts on a loose connection identified as the source of a potentially flight-thwarting fuel leak.
Although specially trained to venture into the "blast zone" around a fully fueled rocket, the three were later hailed as heroes who may well have saved the mission.